After we had been married for three years, my husband felt the need to go to seminary. Because we had a little dog that we adored, we were forced to go to Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, the only place where we could find housing at the time.
We couldn’t live on campus with a dog, so we luckily found a house for rent just a few blocks away.
The “house” was behind an old, large mansion owned by an elderly lady who collected antiques and cats. Our first night in town, the electricity had not been cut on yet, so we stayed in one of her guest rooms in a 150-year-old canopied bed. It was so beautiful …and downright uncomfortable. I think it still had the original mattress.
Eventually we moved in. The living room was just big enough to hold one armchair and one recliner. The furnace was the size of a Volkswagen, and we had to set the 20-inch TV on top of it. The kitchen was old, out of date, and possessed only a sink and counter. We cooked on a tiny hibachi and hot plate and ate at our lime green Formica kitchen table and plastic chairs. In the corner sat our 40-year-old refrigerator which possessed a small ice box that forced me to chisel out excess ice growing around it once a month.
Our bathroom contained a toilet, pedestal sink, and a metal 24-inch square stand up shower that was rusting. The only decent furniture we moved with us was our bedroom furniture, purchased at Korn Industries in Sumter several years before. Made from oak, there was a headboard, chest of drawers, and vanity with mirror. We crammed it into the tiny 9-foot bedroom. The floor caved in at the back, so we put a concrete block under one side of the bed to make it level. Actually, the floor had fallen down in the other rooms too, but since they were carpeted with indoor/outdoor carpet and nailed with sturdy tacks, we just walked uphill and downhill on uneven carpet and flooring. We called it our “split level home”, all 650 square feet of it.
Rent was $75 a month, and we really got our money’s worth.
We moved in the summer of 1980 when there was a heat wave. It was 104 degrees every day. We kept throwing the dog in the shower and laying him in front of a fan since the house had no air conditioning. We had traded in my beautiful Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with the CB antenna and 8 track sound system, for a little cheap Mazda with no radio or AC, so there was no relief there. I had never been so miserable in my life.
I got a job making $400 a month at Ivey’s Department store, and after school my husband installed TV antennas for $15 a day, three days a week. We lived off Pop-Tarts and 3 for $1.00 pot pies…and a lot of cereal. Before we moved, friends gave my husband a bicycle to get to school and work, my mother-in-law helped us by sending $100 a month for groceries, and my parents sent us $10 every other month to go out.
The cats at our landlady’s house wanted to help, too. They thoughtfully brought me decapitated mice and left them on my porch.
After a few months, we had not really had the opportunity to make friends at the seminary. I was never there, and my husband was working as much as he could to keep up with his studies and install antennas. But one night I had to work late at the store. My husband had needed the car all day, so he came to pick me up that night. As we were traveling the 10 miles to home, my husband suddenly yelled for me to get down. I saw bright lights shining into the back window, and WHAM…we were hit from behind.
I had terrible whiplash, but my husband helped me out of what was left of our car because he smelled gas and was afraid the car would catch on fire. We stood on the side of the road with him holding me while I cried. The car was demolished, with the rear fender shoved up to the front seats. The other driver, clearly drunk, fell out of his car door, stood up, and leaned on his door frame, smoking a cigar. He was arrested, and we were taken to the hospital. I was fitted with a collar…all the muscles in my neck were torn. It would take a long time to recover.
But meanwhile, we were stuck, sitting in a hospital waiting room at midnight, and no car. What were we to do?
My husband had made one friend at school, William, a tall African American man. They didn’t know each other well, but any port is needed in a storm, so he called William. Not only did William come and pick us up, he helped us get around for a while until we could get another vehicle. We have remained friends with William and his family for 40 years.
At this Thanksgiving time, I look around my beautiful home…I have more now than I have ever had. I have many friends and family. I have no trouble eating out when I want, and I can pay my bills. I am so grateful and thankful to God for this.
But I don’t think I would be nearly as grateful or appreciative if I had not experienced what it was like to have nothing, need a helping hand, and find a friend. Be that friend for someone else.