This blog posting is in loving memory of Vivian Womble, a woman whose Love knew no bounds and through whom I saw God, up close and personal.
A Time and Place Where Neighbors Were Close
In the small southern town in which I grew up in the late 50s to mid 60s, neighbors were close, not only geographically, but close in heart. People tended to stay put in those days. In contrast to my present life, where we have had a variety of neighbors, I had the same neighbors for most of my childhood.
In a world where windows were open to the breeze, neighbors talked through windows to people in the yard. Sometimes we yelled across the street. My friend, Lynn, and I once thought we’d try communicating by a tin can telephone. We discovered it would have required too long a string to do us much good … and there was that problem of it going across the street. I have a feeling the people driving their cars down that street might not have had the patience to wait for two kids to reel in the string, so they could drive through!
I hardly remember a time when Lynn and her parents, the Wombles, were not our neighbors. They were a wonderful part of the protective hedge around my sheltered childhood. Even though my parents called Lynn’s Mother, Vivian, they taught me to call her Mrs. Womble. Even as I grew up, the name stuck. She was always Mrs. Womble to me.
However, the formality in the name, did not line up with the lives we lived. Mrs. Womble was the mother of five children, and yet she had enough love left over to be like a second mother to me.
Mrs. Womble was a beautician, by trade. It was through her art that I got my first curls. I remember well sitting in front of the dresser in her bedroom while she saturated my hair with funny smelling stuff before rolling each piece of hair in pink curlers. When I looked doubtful about the process, she assured me I would look “beautiful.” Sure enough, after a time, she would proudly present me to my mother with the comment, “Doesn’t she look fine!”
Discovering New Things to Enjoy!
The first sugar cane I ever sampled came from Mrs. Womble. She invited me to join her and Lynn and Sue on the back steps of her house for a “chew.” I remember the sweet, syrupy taste, but most of all, I remember her smile and laugh, as we fought the gnats and chewed.
And speaking of her smile and her laugh, I will forever remember those. She had the type of smile that seemed to light up her whole face. And her laugh was a wonderful, infectious laugh that had a magic all its own!
I remember being ill in bed with the chicken pox. I was totally miserable … itching unbearably … with my feet in a box Mother had rigged up to keep the sheets of my legs. Mrs. Womble came to visit. She told me stories with such expression and such humor that soon I was laughing with her. Her laugh broke the evil spell of misery and helped me get through.
Not only did Mrs. Womble introduce me to sugar cane, she also introduced me to coca cola … and the world of “soft drinks.” When I was growing up, we drank water, milk, orange juice, or ice tea at our house. It was not that my parents were opposed to “soft drinks.” We just drank other things.
One hot summer day, I went to the Hampton Watermelon Festival with the Wombles. It was very hot, as South Carolina summers always are. I overheated and almost fainted. Mrs. Womble quickly bought a cold coke and revived me. I instantly felt better!
When we got home, I heard Mrs. Womble tell my mother, “Pearl, something awful happened.” I began to listen closer, thinking maybe I was sicker than I thought. But that was not it. “I gave Carolyn a coke. I did it without thinking. I’m so sorry. I know you all don’t drink that stuff.”
It was my mother’s turn to laugh, as she explained we had no moral objections to coke. We just didn’t drink it because there were other things to drink. I remember the look of relief on Mrs. Womble’s face. After that, Mrs. Womble freely offered me cokes and I drank them at their house. Even today, when I have a coke, I think of Mrs. Womble and smile.
Guardian Angel Extrodinaire
Mrs. Womble was a wonderful protective neighbor. We always had the feeling all was well if she was home. If any stranger came looking for us, they often had to deal with her first. One knock on the door, if we were not home, and she’d be there, questioning the potential intruder. And when we came home, she’d be right there with the report.
Mrs. Womble rescued us on a regular basis. We have all laughed about the time Daddy was in the garage working. He was straddling a saw horse and stepped back too far. He fell to the hard cement floor. He related how embarrassed he was and how glad he was that no one had witnessed this mishap. However, before his relief was too great, he found two strong arms helping him up. Mrs. Womble had seen him fall and and had run immediately to his assistance!
On another occasion, Daddy was chopping something in the garden and missed his target, badly cutting his foot. He bled profusely, all over the driveway and back steps. While my mother took him to the hospital, Mrs. Womble stayed at our house to tell me when I got home what had happened.
While she was waiting, she got a bucket of soap and water, got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the blood off the driveway. She said she thought I would be frightened to come home to all that blood. My mother often told that story about her friend who clearly went above and beyond what anyone else likely would have done.
I had a swing that my father had installed on one of the pecan trees. I used to swing and swing and swing until I felt that with one more push, I would touch the sky. It was a feeling of freedom that to this day, I have never been able to recapture. After the pumping to the highest point, I would jump out of the swing and fly through the air, as far as I could go. Lynn and I used to take turns seeing who could jump the farthest.
On one of those flights through space, I landed on my ankle. I remember the feeling of absolute pain that ripped through my foot and leg. I tried to stand, but couldn’t. Sobbing, I sank back to the ground. Before I knew it, there were those strong arms again … comforting, helping, holding me up. Mrs. Womble was there. She half walked, half carried me inside where we verified that nothing was broken.
The Race for The Leaves!
There were pecan trees in the Priester yard and Oak trees in the Womble yard. Fall brought a generous blanketing of leaves. Both Mrs. Womble and my father liked to work in the yard. Both were aware that the fall winds were not selective about where the leaves got deposited. Both felt an obligation not to let “their leaves” blow across the street for the other to have to rake up.
Their concerns brought about the annual run for the leaves. As soon as the leaves began to fall, each would run to their posts and begin furiously raking leaves. Of course, the rest of us would watch from the inside, as if we had box seats, for the race. It was never possible to declare a winner, but both Mrs. Womble and my father looked as satisfied with their efforts as if they had each won!
Still Making Us Beautiful
Mrs. Womble worked at Winnette’s Hat Shoppe, a small shop where fine women’s clothing and hats were sold. It was tiny and the dressing room in the back was like a very small closet. The shop was so popular that often customers came from other parts of South Carolina. Women of all shapes and sizes crammed into that hot, little dressing room, elbowing each other, as they tried on stacks of clothing.
We didn’t have a lot of money, but every once in awhile, my mother would “splurge” on a new dress when Mrs. Smith had a sale at the shop. As Mother got older, Mrs. Womble was concerned that she might be pushed and fall in the dressing room.
Mrs. Womble got permission from Mrs. Smith to bring home dresses she thought my mother would like. She used her lunch breaks to supervise Mother trying on dresses in the comfort of her own home. And her taste was always right on target. The dresses she brought were just what Mother would have picked out.
Wonderful Neighbors To The End
The Wombles and my parents not only carried the keys to each other’s houses, but they also carried the keys to each other’s hearts. They lived together through the trials and tribulations and joys of their lives … children, grandchildren, marriages, births, divorces, illnesses and deaths.
They were each other’s shelter and strength. They carried friendship and caring to a level I’ve never found anywhere else. Their world changed, but they never did. Their faith in God and their love for each other was an example to all of us.
Mr. Womble died and some years later, my mother died. Mrs. Womble and Daddy ended up as residents of the local nursing home. They ate at the same table.
I noticed on one visit that when Daddy was served a banana, he would move it from one side of his plate to the other. I asked him why he did that. He smiled and said Mrs. Womble always tried to take his banana. He said he wanted to share it with her, but the staff told him not to. They were concerned she might choke.
On our next visit, I walked in to see Daddy carefully cutting up half of his banana and feeding her. He was so pleased that the staff had finally approved his sharing with her. He was ever vigilant, giving her time to chew and enjoy each bite.
Mrs. Womble also continued to take care of Daddy. It turned out that they were still neighbors. Her room was near his. She would often come into his room at night and make sure his covers were pulled up around him.
We have had many good neighbors in our lives, but none who were ever on the level of Vivian Womble. She was a combination of mother and guardian angel. She brought the sun in her smile. She brought the music in her laugh. She let us see God up close and personal through her compassion and love. I feel sure God welcomed her into Heaven with open arms, saying,
“Well done, good and faithful servant;
you have been faithful over a few things,
I will make you ruler over many things.
Enter into the Joy of your Lord!”
Now that Mr. and Mrs. Womble and Mother and Daddy are all in Heaven, I can’t help but believe that part of their Joy might come through being neighbors again!