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Sharon Randall: A mother’s smile in the rearview mirror lights a life

The phone message was brief. Martha, my friend since we were little girls, would have preferred to speak with me personally, but I’m not always easy to reach.

She had called to tell me that her mother — a woman I adored, who had suffered for years from dementia — had passed away painlessly and at peace.

The news, if not unexpected, was surprising, as it often is when someone is so full of life you thought they’d live forever, and then they prove you wrong.

When I was 7, my family moved from North Carolina, where I was a short walk from the shelter of my grandparents’ home, to South Carolina, where I knew absolutely no one.

I started second grade in a sea of strangers. Some were poor like my family, others were well off. We looked much the same. But children are quick to figure things out. We all knew what was what and who was who.

One day after school, I missed the bus and started walking home in a pouring rain.

Pretty soon a car pulled over, a window rolled down and an arm beckoned me to climb inside.

So I crawled into the back seat sopping wet, shivering like a stray dog hoping for a scrap.

Martha sat in front. I knew her from school. We were in the same grade. She was pretty and popular. I was nobody.

Her mother was driving. She smiled at me in the rearview mirror, and I saw right away where Martha got her looks.

“Bless your heart!” said Mrs. G. “Where do you live?”

I didn’t want them to see the place we had rented, so I asked her to drop me off a short distance away. I thanked her for the ride. Then, for no reason, I blurted out something that still embarrasses me to this day.

“Maybe some time I can come over and see your house?”

She and Martha both rushed to my rescue, assuring me they would welcome my visit.

In years to come, Martha and I progressed from school friends to good friends to dear friends. It was, for me, a gift from God, but her mother had a hand in it.

Somehow Mrs. G always made me feel not just welcome in her home, but in her heart.

Each time we met — for a sleepover in her basement, a snowball fight in her backyard or a batch of fresh corn in her kitchen — she always seemed happy to see me, asked how I was, made me feel important and somehow assured me she had great hopes for my future.

When it’s hard to believe in your own dreams, it helps to know someone believes in them for you. I didn’t know what my future might hold. But I knew I wanted to be the kind of mother, the kind of woman, the kind of person I saw clearly in Mrs. G.

After college, Martha and I lived thousands of miles apart, but managed to stay in touch. On every visit to my hometown, I’d always call her mother.

“Got any fresh corn?” I’d say.

Mrs. G would laugh. “We’ll find some! Come on over!”

On our last visit at her new home in an extended care facility, Mrs. G gave me a stack of “inspirational articles” that she’d been saving for me.

“Writers need inspiration,” she said. “I thought these might be inspiring for you.”

I thanked her for the stack of clippings. Then I looked in her eyes and told her that she and all the kindness she had shown me had been far more inspiring than anything I could read.

I’m not sure she heard me. She smiled, then her mind seemed to fill with misty thoughts of other places, other years.

That was the last time I saw her. But I will remember her best as she looked long ago on a cold rainy day, smiling back at me in the rearview mirror.

If you think you can’t make a difference in a child’s life, think again. Children don’t remember all that we try to teach them. But they never forget a kindness.

Kindness begets kindness. It changes everything. Even you and me and the world.

Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.

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