It was very late when my cell phone summoned me. One neighbor called me to tell me about the ambulance in front of another neighbor’s house. There is a child in that house who sometimes plays with our children. I debated with myself only a few minutes. I should keep my nose in my own business. I don’t need to add to the chaos and confusion. I need to go over there. Someone needs to hang on to that child, especially if there is going to be a late night at the ER. Don’t butt in, you don’t know those people very well. Look, you are good in a crisis. If you can’t be there for your neighbor…. Mizz Binkley would have gone over in a heart beat. In honor of Mizz Binkley, you have to go. Every child needs a Mizz Binkley. Time to pay it back. Take off the fuzzy slippers. Put on the coat. Just do it. Go over there and love your neighbor.
Mizz Binkley was my grandmother’s neighbor. Mama Vann moved into the neighborhood when I was 8 years old, and in a matter of a few months I came to spend the summer there. I saw the children playing in her yard. I was shy. I sat on the front porch, wishing someone would come over and introduce themselves. They sat on their front porch. One of the girls finally jumped up and went into the house. A few minutes later Mizz Binkley came out, and didn’t waste a second coming over to help us navigate introductions. It didn’t stop there. She continued to invite me and to orchestrate reasons to invite me. Pretty soon her daughters and I were giggling under covers, keeping Mr. Binkley awake, eating Cheetos and watching late night movies together. Mizz B took me along to see a movie at a drive-in. I think that was the first movie I had ever been to see, let alone a drive-in movie. There was always room for one more little bottom to squish in the back seat of her Hornet to go somewhere. My grandmother was terrified of swimming. The memories of polio and drownings just never faded in her memory. Mizz B would invite me to go to “Gaisman Park” and somehow there was always a swim suit in the car for me too. My aunt knew about this subterfuge, but no one ever told Mama Vann. Mizz B invited me along for a trip to Sardis Lake, Mississippi, where I got the worst sunburn I’ve ever had in my life on a cloudy, relatively cool day.
She was a sprite of a woman, wound like a spring always about to be sprung. She came and went like a tornado that sweeps away the sofa and the piano and leaves the crystal in the china cabinet miraculously intact. To this day I can close my eyes and hear her voice, her lilting and playful southern accent.
She married the love of her life when she was very young, and they stayed married until Joe died of a massive heart attack a week before Dee’s wedding. They were true neighbors to my grandmother and aunt. Really, to everyone, even W.T., the grouchy, touchy guy across the street who perpetually complained about us kids, the dogs, and everything. Mizz B strived heroically to see all her neighbors in the best possible light and to speak well of them, even when the rest of us believed they didn’t deserve it. The Force was strong with this one, Obi Wan.
Mizz B was the first Episcopalian I knowingly met. She knew that my family attended church regularly back home, as my grandmother and aunt did not. She also knew that other family members were prone to snatching me away on a Sunday or Wednesday night to go to church where my uncle was Deacon for Life. Lots of hellfire and dalmations preaching there. Understanding all of this, Miss B rescued me yet again and would show up at the door to tell me to get my glad rags on because I was going to church with her.
I lost my time and space connection with Mizz B after my aunt moved in with us, and from there into a nursing home. The older I get, the deeper all my connections with her have become as it dawns on me, “THAT is what Mizz B was doing!” That is what God was doing in this dynamo woman who first revealed and embodied for this lonely child what it meant to be Neighbor.
I dragged myself out of my comforts, pulled on my boots, and marched myself right over there. I opened the door and didn’t wait because I saw the child trying to contain the fearful, barking dog and her own fears as she saw her mother come down the stairs and walk to the ambulance with the EMTs. “I’m your Neighbor, and this is what Neighbors do for each other,” I told her father. I restrained the dog and wrapped my arms around the child who was suddenly alone in the house while everyone went out to the street, to the ambulance, to the police car. It’s what Mizz Binkley would have done.