Once upon a time there were two middle-aged, single women who lived together in the farming village of Markham, Ontario. In my mind they transform the insult of "spinster" into an honourable title. Quaintly named "Dixon Riley" and "Kitty Alderson", they were refined women who lived in a modern ranch-style bungalow near my family’s ramshackle two-story.
My parents had little money for décor or landscaping. By the time I came along as their fourth baby, they were too busy keeping food on our table to give us children much individual attention. Our mother wasn’t the expressive type; my little girl self was starved for both emotional warmth and aesthetic joy.
Perhaps surprisingly, a fundamentalist Christian upbringing made me confident of God’s love, instead of driving me away from spirituality, the way it has some. While I credit that confidence to many adults from my youth, my trust in God surely stems partly from the kindness of Miss Riley and Miss Alderson.
Once a week they hosted a children’s club for any neighbourhood kids who wanted to attend. A gang of kids regularly showed up at their house. I loved arriving at their manicured gardens and nicely decorated living room, an oasis of beauty and peace away from my stormy home.
They must have rearranged their furniture every week because I picture our sitting in rows of chairs. I remember the feeling of being truly welcomed when quiet Miss Alderson took my coat and Miss Riley greeted me with gentle words and a smile. There was no sense that they ever worried about our rambunctiousness in their pretty home.
Somehow Miss Riley kept us entertained with games, bible stories in felt-board pictures, and songs about how Jesus loved us. We eagerly waited until the end of the club meeting when one of us would find a prize taped to the underside of our chair. I'm seeing a foot-long, pink-swirled stick of candy.
Only years later did I appreciate the effort, time, and expense these two women put into each weekly event. Like all children, I was self-absorbed. I know that I eagerly received every pat on the head, every cookie, and every encouraging word.
Thinking back, I admire Miss Riley’s memorization technique of removing from the felt board one word at a time, as together we shouted the bible verse over and over until we could all say it without any text left to prompt us.
I still entertain my husband with my sing-song recital of one verse I learned in the Shakespearean English of the King James Bible, “Man looketh on the OUTward appearance but the LORD looketh on the heart.”
If there is an after-life when we will see those we’ve lost, I hope to hug these two unassuming, childless women. I want to hear their life stories...how they became the generous women I knew. And I will be so glad to thank them for helping me believe in a God who loves.