HELPER

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Wendy Hodge

By WENDY HODGE

Everybody loves Mr. Rogers. If I’m honest, I love him more now as an adult than I did as a child. I preferred the higher-volumed shows like Zoom! and Electric Company! Mr. Rogers’ low tones and slow mannerisms made me drowsy. Let’s face it, a couple of those hand puppets were a bit creepy looking. But, oh, what I wouldn’t give for an afternoon with Mr. Rogers these days. The whole entire world needs his calming presence and his rock-steady sweet nature. 

One line that has been quoted so many times rings truer than ever — “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. ‚”

My sister was a helper. All the days I knew her, she had a helper’s spirit. Her chosen profession was social work. I was still a little girl when she graduated from college and began to work for the state of Alabama in the Department of Human Resources. Her job was emotionally exhausting. She would come home in the evenings with stories of children who had none of the good things in their life that I took for granted and also an abundance of the things nightmares are made of. She was never specific with me, at least not until I was also an adult, because she wanted to spare me. “It’s better,” she said, “that you don’t even know these kinds of stories exist.” 

But they do exist. And they take a toll on the helpers. 

My sister’s profession wasn’t her only avenue of service. She was always ready with a meal for a sick family or extra gifts at Christmas for children whose parents were struggling. She gave so much more than she received, and she was happy doing it. 

She and her husband decided to help by being foster parents. Two sets of siblings, in quick succession, became a part of our family. We celebrated birthdays with them, attended church and Sunday dinners together, watched movies and picked out school clothes. We welcomed them into our homes. And when the time came, we said goodbye, not knowing if we would ever see their faces again. 

My sister took care of a dying father-in-law and then, a few years later, a dying mother-in-law. And then she had her own babies, and she became the kind of mom children deserve … the most unselfish mom I have ever known. 

After she died, people wrote cards and made phone calls just to tell us of the many ways my sister helped them or helped their friends or helped their neighbors … all stories we would never have heard because my sister was the kind of helper who helped whether someone was watching or not. Out there in the world are people I’ll never know who were touched by my sister’s help. I love that. 

But today, driving through our small city, I passed the Monkey Park, and a very personal memory hit me like a physical tremor. This park has seen so much history: birthday parties, Summer Swing concerts on hot Tuesday nights, snakes in the creek, train rides and Christmas festivities. The monkey park has also been the epicenter of some strange animal activity. Mr. Moore’s bull ran loose through the park long before I was born; a bear was spotted in 2016 leaving broken branches and an odorous trail right through the creek before he ventured out onto the main highway; and I won’t even mention the sordid details of my own encounter with the evil spider monkeys that used to be kept caged in the center of the park. Those monkeys broke free more than once, thanks to freak storms and hurricanes before they were banished forever in what my family still refers to as “the ponytail incident.” (If you are not familiar with this story, please refer to my previously published article titled ‘I Think I Broke the Monkey Park.’ My apologies in advance if you are an avid lover of spider monkeys and think they would be adorable wearing a dress and makeup and sitting next to you at the dinner table — we simply will never see eye to eye on this subject.)

Suffice it to say, the Monkey Park has an air of “Jumanji” wildness about it. It is a location not to be missed. 

But the memory that hit me this day is a memory of my sister. She helped someone on a summer day, more than 40 years ago, and it’s time I told that story. 

TO BE CONTINUED….

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