“Eldon and I are your neighbors– a block north of your home. We’d be glad for you to stop in anytime. You are always welcome for tea.” What was left unsaid, but became clear later was the rest of the invitation, “We will be glad to adopt you as our own children, and your children as our grandchildren, for as long as you are here, and in our hearts forever.” The Johnsons were like that. They had welcomed the previous ministers at their church, and they would welcome succeeding ones.
They gave an open invitation, which they always accommodated, with a few understandable exceptions when they were gone on a trip or in the midst of a project, from which they could always take a hospitality break. Retired from managing the local grocery business Eldon made time for fishing trips with the children, along with his other grandchildren, and games of pool in the den of their little house. They taught them to “chicken dance” and pick strawberries and other things that parents may not have remembered to teach. Eldon and Louise also seldom missed a worship service, taking their position in the front under the high pulpit. He had missed enough, he said, in the working years when the grocery required his attention.
When many others did not invite visits and seemed to resent my effort to make a home appointment as too much of an intrusion on a busy schedule, the Johnsons were always true to their word. The teapot was always on. They had their own opinions about matters being discussed, which they expressed in considerate, thoughtful ways whether they were in disagreement or support. It was clear from the first that their mission was to make loving relationships. They also cooperated with the church’s decisions once made, and were usually available to help, even with hard projects like putting a new acoustical ceiling in the Fellowship Hall, or tearing out the wood floor to lay concrete. If there had not been another person in that community of such character (and there certainly were others), the time there would still have been wonderful.
Louise gradually lost her vision, and Eldon became her caretaker as other health problems accumulated. She still wrote a note stating that they were enjoying their private “nursing home” and still kept us in their prayers. Eldon died suddenly. Louise lived out her final stage of hospitality in a nearby nursing home.
As we approach Thanksgiving and Christmas we remember Eldon and Louise putting out the lights around their house, and a constant buffet spread of desserts and delicacies for all their guests. Like their Savior they will live forever, and not only in our “hearts.”