Arrilda Dethloff worked in the church nursery. I’m not sure how long. I think she started somewhere between the time of Malachi and the book of Matthew. She was both brusque and tough. My kind of lady.
Arrilda was poor so her clothes weren’t the best and her hair was seldom done. Untreated amblyopia caused her to look at you sideways, kind of like a pirate. She had a gravelly voice and a quick wit. She loved those kids and she especially loved my son Matthew. That of course made me love her.
About three years into my tenure as her pastor, Arrilda’s health began to fail. She had trouble getting out. Then she had to give up the nursery.
I went by her little white frame house to check in on her. I was worried because she wouldn’t answer her phone. Her only living family was a son and his ex wife. The son was a long haul trucker living in Oklahoma, but the ex daughter-in-law lived nearby and Arrilda was still close to her.
As I stepped up on the porch I noticed a cross-stitched sign with an insect on it. It read, “Don’t bug me.” I smiled.
I took a chance and knocked. Arrilda was sitting in a white plastic lawn chair in the middle of her living room. It was the midst of a Texas summer and the un-air-conditioned house was sweltering. It must have been 100 degrees.
A few weeks later I got a guy to donate a window unit air-conditioner and the youth minister and I installed it in her bedroom window. She never turned it on. Said it was too expensive to run.
The kitchen was a mess with opened cans that she’d been trying to eat from. I made a note to have our church’s “meals on wheels” begin delivering meals to her.
The room was cluttered with the memories of life. Lots of hand made things. Old lamps. Pictures of her son and his ex wife. Her cordless phone was dead in her lap. Now I knew why we couldn’t reach her. Arrilda never hung up the phone to recharge. I made another mental note: “Get her a new phone with a really long cord.”
It was so sad to see someone with such a clear mind become chained to a failing body.
Two church members, Faye, and Euford, lived next door. Faye was a spry energetic short lady in her late seventies. She always referred to Arrilda as MISS Dethloff. Faye and Euford did a good job of looking in on Arrilda.
Faye was feisty with strong opinions that she could blast at you like a sub machine gun. Sometimes it was like listening to a 33 record played at 45. Euford was retired from the railroad, and as these things tend to go, the complete opposite of Faye. Euford moved and talked like a giant ground sloth.
One day I went to visit Euford. I can’t remember what was wrong. He was sick with something. I walked into the back room where they had a sliding glass door that looked across to Arrilda’s back yard. No fence.
Euford was sitting in the chair in his striped railroad overalls, with his striped railroad hat. No shirt. I would put him at around 84 at the time.
Faye was both agitated and animated. “Brotherbill,” she always said my name so fast that it turned into one word, “Brotherbill, Iwanttoshowyousomething.”
Faye walked me to the sliding door and pointed toward Arrilda’s house.
She said, “Do you see THAT!
That . . .THING!”
She pointed at one of those lawn art objects cut out of plywood and painted to look like the rear end of a fat woman bending over in the flowerbed.
“Brotherbill,” Faye asked, “Do you think that’s POINTED AT ME!”
I smiled at the thought. Knowing Arrilda, if Faye had made her mad it was certainly possible.
Faye continued to vent in rapid staccato, “I just hate that thing and I think Missdethloff’s pointed it at me!”
I said, “Now Faye I don’t know that it’s pointed AT you . . .”
“Oh yes it is. Missdethloff came home with it from Oklahoma and she set it in her yard facing the street. I told her, ‘Missdethloff that thing is awful and you shouldn’t aim it at the street!”
Faye said, “The next day it was aimed at ME!”
Euford still sitting in the green recliner slothfully nodded in shirtless agreement.
I played dumb.
Faye said, “Now that Missdethloff’s homebound do you think she would even know if I went over there and threw it away!”
I nearly laughed at the idea that this lawn art was so offensive Faye was contemplating burglary to be rid of it.
“She never gets out so I don’t think she’d miss it do you?”
I went the diplomatic route, “Miss Faye I’m not about to get involved in this.”
To this day whenever I see one of those fat-lady-bending-over lawn art things I can’t help but remember how Arrilda weaponized it and used it on Faye. I smile at the memory of her beautiful dry sense of humor.
Not long after the lawn-art-incident, Arrilda’s son came down from Oklahoma and put her in the nursing home. I went to see her. She hated it. She wanted to go home.
Then, in Arrilda’s mind at least, she experienced a stroke of divine intervention.
Arrilda fell and broke her hip and was taken to the hospital. After the surgery and recovery, I went to the hospital to bring her back to the nursing home. Arrilda informed me that we weren’t going back to the nursing home. We were going home.
“What about your son?” I asked.
One sideways look from her good eye and I knew, we were going home.
Arrilda spent the rest of her life in that little house. More accurately, Arrilda Dethloff spent the rest of her life in that chair in the living room of her little house. We took her meals and begged her to turn on the air conditioner. Faye and Euford forgave the lawn art offense and checked on her every day.
She was home. She was happy. Still, it made me so sad to see that wonderful spirit chained down by the pain and disability of a failing body.
When she died I was so happy for her.
2 Corinthians 5 says that our bodies are like houses. Eventually they wear out and break down. So God has something better waiting for us. He gives us a new body that never wears out, a house that never breaks down.
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2 NASV).
I smile once more for my friend Arrilda.