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On hostas and perennial friendship

In the bleak midwinter, you can give your heart

I risked life, limb and lens yesterday afternoon, skidding out to my icy front porch to plant a yard sign and a little love.

In the bleak midwinter,  you can give your heart. You can also wack your chin with your camera lens as you take a spectacular fall in front of a whole middle school just getting out for the day, but that’s a story for another day.

I’ve been wanting to plant my own friendship sign since I spotted one on a walk through my neighborhood. Written in English, Arabic and Spanish, because those are the languages spoken in Pastor Matthew Bucher’s Virginia neighborhood, the sign acts as exactly the kind of welcome mat I want to display.

“No matter where you are from, we are glad you’re our neighbor.”

I’m going to see about adding a Hmong version as well, because that’s a language spoken in my neighborhood.

Pastor Bucher hand-lettered his sign and, with the help of congregation members, added translations.

“The church is located in the northeast part of Harrisonburg, which has a long tradition of being the African-American part of the city,” he said in a recent  NPR article. “But in the past 20 years it’s also become home to a lot of people from Central America, the Middle East and around the world.”

“That’s why we did it in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish, because those are the three most common languages spoken in our neighborhood.”

The signs are sprouting up all over the country, and I imagine they’re like bright little breadcrumbs of kindness. Follow them to find a friend.

The whole project reminded me of a Sam Water Foss poem I’ve written about before. I’ve loved that poem since college, when I tacked it to my dorm room bulletin board.

I’m going to post it here in its entirety because it is the perfect, bleak midwinter pick-me-up.

The House by the Side of the Road

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my
house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by-
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish- so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Welcome, friends. We’re so very glad you’re here.

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Here’s my sign and I’m hoping to add another. Let me know if you’d like one for your front yard and I’ll point you in the right direction. 

Save the Erb Park Pool

Life is a special occasion

The week she turned 89-years old, I caught our neighbor out cutting her grass. She gave me a hearty wave as I snapped a quick cellphone picture.

“Just tidying up!” she yelled.

We call her the Cookie Lady, and we’ve written about her before. Self-described as “Irish, Catholic and Senile,” Connie remains as quick-witted, friendly and flirty as ever.

From her front porch throne she presides over Circle Street, knitting stockings and spinning yarns.

Friday, we surprised her with a birthday cake and, as is her style, she one-upped us with a fresh pizza pie.

Between us, though, we had a great little party.

Flowers from the steadily arriving birthday bouquets filled the kitchen, “They should probably bury me now,” she said cheerfully. “We’ve got enough flowers.”

A gift bag waiting to be filled with frozen hit fudge sundaes for the pizza delivery person sat on Connie’s kitchen counter. It read “Life is a Special Occasion,” which could be Connie’s life motto.

She’s quick with a greeting card, generous with treats, and talented with knitting needles. To date, she has knitted and doled out 1,200 giant personalized Christmas stockings. They hang on hearths throughout Wisconsin, much, I’m sure, to the consternation of  Old St. Nick, who has been tasked with filling them.

What a lovely legacy, though, and how amazing that every year 1,200 people will hang their stockings at Christmas and bless our neighbor, the beautiful Connie Loescher.

Life is a special occasion

This gift bag, which Connie later filled with frozen hot fudge sundaes for the pizza delivery person, could be Connie’s life motto “Life is a Special Occasion!”

Connie cutting the grass

She was out tidying her yard as I walked past on my way to work last week.

Connie on the phone

Connie received at least three birthday greetings and two impromptu guests during our visit. She’s a social butterfly.

Connie knitting

This is Connie the Cookie Lady who has knit 1200 Christmas Stockings.

Chocolate fudge strawberry cake

Dark Chocolate Strawberry Fudge Cake.

Connie Janet and Mom

The party guests included our former neighbor and forever friend Janet, and my mom Peggy.

You really need to see this spunky lady in action to get a full appreciation for her. Here’s a short video that captures a little of that Irish wit…