When we first came to Central Church of Christ 40 years ago, everyone was very welcoming. They’d been without a minister of any kind for months and were happy to have a pulpit minister on whom they could rely for spiritual food every Sunday.
The elders and their wives were especially gracious. I remember all so fondly. They invited us into their homes and fed us physically and spiritually. We were among the “young couples” then, of course. Today young is anyone ten years younger than I am. But then, around 30 years old, we were young adults with young children.
One of the couples who was so kind to us and with whom we became good friends was Jeff and Althea Edwards. We teased her about trying new recipes on us—most of which turned out very well—and Jeff teased us about everything.
After a couple of years, we had heard that Althea did not tell her age. Steve decided to ask a question that he’s always curious about. He said, “Althea, I feel like I know you well enough to ask you this: How old are you?”
Althea gave him a started look and just stood there. Finally, smiling, she said, “Well, I’ll give you a hint. I was born on the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.”
That’s when I should have kept my mouth shut and let him wonder, but of course I did not. Immediately, I said, “Oh, I know when that was! My mother has always told me that she was sitting in the sun holding me, a tiny infant, when her neighbor came to tell her that President Roosevelt had died. We’re the same age!”
Steve laughed with delight that he’d learned her age so easily. And Althea really didn’t seem to mind.
So once we knew we were born only a little over a month apart, we became even closer friends.
Althea was always involved in many people’s lives, so when she came to church she often was carrying two or three bags or items to give someone. A book to lend, her son’s or daughter’s outgrown clothes to share, an interesting newspaper article—she was always thinking of others and how her sharing could enrich their lives. To this day, when I leave for church carrying two or three bags to give to someone, Steve will say, “Well, Althea, I see you’re ready to go.”
When Jeff took a job in Troy, Ohio, and they moved away, we were all very sad, but we kept in touch. In 1995 they traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, for example, to attend our son’s wedding. Within days, Jeff had died of a heart attack and Althea and their two children were bereft. It’s hard for me to grasp that he’s been gone that long.
But Althea is a strong woman and has shown that over the years. The best thing we ever did together was a three-week Let’s Start Talking project in Panama in 2013. Just the two of us, off on an adventure.
And it was certainly an adventure! Living in a large, rambling building that used to be a summer camp, walking 25 minutes each way to where we taught—usually in the rain, working with readers who desperately wanted to improve their English and yet had few basics to draw from, shopping and cooking for ourselves without knowing any Spanish, hosting parties for our readers and the church, having limited contact with our loved ones. Althea was an excellent partner.
Worshiping with the church there was fascinating: the indigenous Guna men and women who walked miles and sacrificed to be there, the American ex-pats who were always willing to help, the missionary couple who organized an directed everything, and the Spanish-speaking Panamanians. And when we sang together, we each sang in our own language and the sound was amazing! Everyone sang enthusiastically and gave glory to God. Althea and I felt like we were getting a little taste of “When We All Get to Heaven” as we sang it together.
It was exciting and fun—until the day the building flooded from excessive rains and our suitcases, half packed to go home, floated around and then sank. But many church members pitched in and we salvaged the important things.
We finally got to a real hotel, saw the Panama Canal, and worshiped with a dear church in Panama City. And then back to our ordinary lives, which also have blessings.
Especially the blessing of friendship. Long, deep friendships for a lifetime. Friendships that pick up where we left off, no matter how long it’s been. For me, Althea is that kind of friend.
Happy birthday, Althea! You bless so many. I hope you will be blessed today.