My family moved when I was ten. My new school had actual playground equipment, like basketball hoops and swings. At my old school all we’d had was an asphalt lot, and in the winter when it snowed, we would hide behind snowbanks and build forts.
The kids at my new school seemed to have known each other since birth. Unsure how to make friends at recess, I resorted to hanging out behind the snowbanks — my natural habitat.
It was there that I taught Angela Schaffer how to swear. My dad worked as a road-construction manager, so swearing was my native tongue. I made her rehearse “shit” and “fuck” and “damn” until they sounded natural in her high-pitched, fifth-grade voice.
Years later I was thankful this wasn’t the story she told at my wedding or my ordination into the ministry.
I was a volunteer at a high-kill animal shelter. Sadie was left there overnight. She was about a year old, strong and independent. Her coat was dark brown, almost black, and she had a kinky tail.
Intent on saving Sadie’s life, I found her a good home and drove twenty miles to drop her off. As we pulled up to the house, the entire family came out to greet us. They had bought everything she would need — collar, leash, food, bowl. The only problem was Sadie wouldn’t get out of my car.
I was forced to take her home with me and adopt her myself. Apparently I was Sadie’s one person. She wouldn’t abide anyone else — not my animal-loving friends, not my sweet mother, not my handyman. She didn’t want them around and made sure they knew it.
After four years with Sadie, I brought home my future husband, Geoff. To protect him while he visited, I kept Sadie on a leash, but she got loose. Geoff sat down on the stairs and let her run snarling past him several times. Then she stopped running and cowered next to me, astonished that he was not afraid of her. What kind of person was this?
Now she had two friends.
Walking my son to and from the school-bus stop was the highlight of my day. He would put his hand in mine, and we would talk about the sights we saw. Just around the corner from us, in a little white cottage, lived an older woman who was often out working in her garden. She was slight in stature, kept her gray hair pinned up in a bun, and typically wore a colorful, flowered dress. Her name was Eva, and she grew beautiful roses in shades of red, white, pink, and — her favorite — yellow. Their fragrance would reach us from two houses away.
My son would run to greet Eva and dart from bush to bush, commenting on her prize roses while she trailed behind him. My son liked her attention, and she, his. I could tell she was lonely.
I also knew Eva from my job as a 911 dispatcher. When she called, she was like a different person. She might dial 911 three or four times a day to complain that people were coming into her house and stealing her water pipes or eating her food or tearing the fabric from the bottom of her furniture. Her high-pitched voice would grate on my nerves. Sometimes she would yell and refuse to listen to me. Over the years I sent many officers to check on her. Always nothing would be amiss, but she might call again twenty minutes later.
One busy day Eva called (for the third time) screaming so hysterically that I could hardly understand her. She thought German airplanes were bombing her house. There were tears in her voice. No officer was available, but I convinced the sergeant on duty to drive by. A little while later his voice crackled over the radio: “Get me the fire department! I have a 904 structure fire. I’m going inside.”
Shocked, I sent the fire engines. He later described the flames licking the walls of Eva’s living room and smoke so thick he could barely breathe. Paint cans in the garage were exploding from the intense heat — those were Eva’s bombs. He crawled through the house and found her hiding in the hall closet under a pile of clothes. He saved her life.
Eva’s house was destroyed, and she was evaluated and declared mentally unable to care for herself. After she moved into an elder-care home, my son and I missed seeing her in her garden. I was able to talk to her social worker, who told me that Eva had been born in Hungary. In 1942, at the age of nineteen, she’d been rounded up by the Nazis with her family and her husband and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. She had endured three years as one of the workers assigned to sort the clothes of gas-chamber victims. Her husband and the other members of her family had all perished.
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