Friday, September 12, 2008

Missing Mildred

A few months back I spent part of an afternoon with an old friend. I didn't know it would be our very last visit this side of eternity. I met Mildred in her thrift shop about 15 years ago when we had just one car and one baby. We lived outside of a small town, a hamlet, I guess you could call it. Once a week or so baby S. and I, and soon her first brother would go for a walk uptown with our double stroller and go window shopping. The library, the children's shop, the hobby store, the news agency.
I don't know how I came to turn down the alley by the news agency once, but it was down that alley that I discovered the Sonshine Thrift Shop and sweet Mildred. In an old storefront with deep bay windows Mildred displayed rows of shoes and knick-knacks accented with seasonal decorations. The store itself smelled of stale laundry detergent and the kerosene heater that kept her warm in chilly weather. The racks were filled to capacity and Mildred knew were each item was, because she had stocked most of the donations of used items which people regularly left on the front step.
Mildred always took an interest in the children and knew that I had an affinity for vintage fabrics and antiques. Whenever we stopped she had recommendations for us from among her inventory. Her work was done do benefit a charity for terminally ill children. It seems to me that she made reference to having lost a child herself, and I regret that I can't remember more details on that little one.
Most of Mildred's life was centered in that small town, providing for others in one way or another in a very quiet way. As more babies came along and we moved a bit further outside of town, my visits became less frequent, but I was always certain that when I did make a point to stop in, Mildred would be there. She was a fixture.
This past spring I was procrastinating in getting ready for a trip to Ireland and decided to rebel against the urgency of my to-do list and take a detour to see Mildred. I think it was the only time I had been in sans children. We had our longest conversation, about my life and hers. At 93, she needed help from a neighbor to get to the shop in the morning. She tended the shop until he returned at the end of the day to take her home. The merchandise was a little less organized than in the past, but she pointed the way for me to find some fabric that she thought I would like.
I left her that day with some sewing notions and vintage patterns and a recipe for chocolate eclair cake and a feeling that I had just revisited a much simpler time in my life. I was refreshed and ready to prepare for a blessed but hectic itinerary overseas. I thanked my Lord for the dear faithful ladies who are my heroes, quietly doing good and serving selflessly for years and years. So many of them have gone on now, but I still have imagined conversations with Alice, Violet, Elsie, Lou-Lou, Millie, and Mildred, giving them updates and trying to guess what their advice to me would be in the new seasons of my life.
Yesterday I took another turn down the alley and gasped when I saw the empty storefront with the "For Rent" sign in the window. A quick drive to Mildred's house and a conversation with her neighbor confirmed that she was truly gone. Her husband went on ahead of her years ago and she has no descendants.
An ache in my heart reminded me that a faithful friend, that is, a friend with faith, is invaluable. It takes a long time to grow old friends and seasoned saints must persevere through many trials to achieve the kind of gentle spirit that I have admired in these dear ones, my Titus 2 women.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
Titus 2:3-5
Thank you, Mildred!

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