It was a brutal winter day—bitter wind, heavy snowfall, subzero temperatures—and a 13-year-old young man was trudging through the snow. It was about 5:45 in the morning. He was carrying the daily newspaper to people’s homes on his paper route and all the homes were dark. Well, almost all.
The paper was supposed to be delivered by 6 a.m., so when the slumbering folks finally did awake, their news would be on the doorstep waiting for them. Six o’clock sharp was the rule. No exceptions. That deadline was in force regardless of the weather. The rule didn’t care if it was sweltering August, agreeable April or icebox January.
The boy came around the corner, the biting wind hit his pimply face, but he saw a light on at a solitary little house just ahead. As he walked up the steps and was just about to put down the paper, the door opened and a kindly 80ish-year-old woman named Mrs. Wishard opened the door and said, “Quintin, would you like to come inside?”
I said, “Absolutely! I’m freezing!” I went inside, and this sweet woman had made for me—at 5:45 a.m.—a cup of hot chocolate. She gave it to me, and I took it, like the Holy Grail itself. Over 40 years later, I still remember the moment. The warmth. The welcome.
Mrs. Wishard and I chatted, and we got to know each other just a little bit that abominable morning. I had been introduced to her in the warmer months when I was “collecting.” It was a different world in the ’70s. We sent out 13-year-olds weekly to collect a buck and a quarter for a pile of seven days of newspapers. And young teenage boys got to know their neighbors.
I had met everyone on my paper route that way. But this was the first time I’d had much of a conversation with Mrs. Wishard. It was the first time I had taken the time. Usually it was just take the money and run. But today, I connected with this kind soul and experienced her generosity and hospitality.
Thus began a rather unusual friendship between an 80-something grandmother and a gangly redheaded adolescent in no way related to her.
But we discovered our connection.
We talked about books. She had a lot of books, and she knew I liked to read. So she would lend me books that I could take home, and I would bring them back, and we would visit about them. The first one was an American Heritage history volume. There would be umpteen more to follow. I was a poor kid from a single parent home. There were seven kids in our family. We barely had money for shoes. There was precious little money for books. But Mrs. Wishard’s home was like my own cozy little personal library. With no overdue fines. And no library card required. And right in my neighborhood.
Many a cold morning Mrs. Wishard would have her light on, and be ready for me with a cup of hot chocolate and a few minutes of goodness in the middle of my otherwise mundane route.
As the weather grew warmer, hot chocolate yielded to a cold drink. And whenever it was hot out, she would be there to greet me. And she would always have a cool glass of grapefruit juice. I hated grapefruit juice.
But you know what? I grew to love grapefruit juice, because it was given to me from the hand of a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Wishard. I don’t know what you think of when you hear the word neighbor, but the word is like gold to me. Treasure a good neighbor.
But I digress.
This hot chocolate-grapefruit juice alternating kindness routine went on for five years. Plus books. And talking.
All this went down just five minutes from my house in my hometown, a small town called Greenwood, Indiana. And Mrs. Wishard lived on Greenwood Street in Greenwood. I’m not making that up. You can Google Earth it, and the house is still there. Does anything sound more ordinary than Greenwood Street in Greenwood, Indiana?
But sometimes ordinary surprises you.
Eventually, I got rid of that paper route. Eventually, I went off to college.
I remember the day I got the news that
Mrs. Wishard had passed away. She was
88 years old. I wasn’t able to get back home for her funeral, but I do remember it was the first time in my life I cried at the loss of someone I knew. I was 19 years old.
Does it really matter, giving a cup of hot chocolate to the paper carrier on a cold day? Does it really matter, giving a cup of grapefruit juice to someone on a hot day?
Well, you judge for yourself. I’m telling you this story 45 years later. That’s a long time to remember grapefruit juice.
Love doesn’t have an expiration date. It’s always in season; it never goes out of style. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT.
Mrs. Wishard was a woman who cared about doing good, and it wasn’t just for me, she did good for all. So, yes, doing good matters.
Wouldn’t you love to meet someone like her? More importantly, wouldn’t you like to be someone like her?
It’s not hard. Go buy some grapefruit juice.
About the Author: Quintin Stieff is the lead pastor of Valley Church in Des Moines, Iowa, and frequently speaks at conferences and retreats. He and his wife Ruth are the proud parents of three adult children, joined by their two sons-in-law, and recently welcomed their first grandchild.
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