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The Briar Patch | Love thy neighbor

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The South moves north,
North moves south,
A star is born, a star burns out,
The only thing that stays the same is,
everything changes,
everything changes
—Verse from Jungle Wonz’
house music song “Time Marches On”

On a wintery January night, my mother was in labor at a local hospital, preparing to give birth to her youngest child — me. My three siblings, ages 13, 14 and 17, were engaged in a night of fun, playing cards at our next-door neighbors’ house. Paul and Juanita Richardson had become fast friends, the Richardsons and their two daughters welcoming my family to the neighborhood after they moved here from Springfield in the late 1960s. I’d come a little later. “Poor Mary,” Juanita Richardson often says when talking about my mother’s experience that night.

Hours later, the following morning, at 3:20 a.m., with temperatures hovering in the teens, I made my first appearance into this world. I wore a yellow waffle knit jacket and matching pants home from the hospital. I still have the ensemble. This past week, I’ve been thinking of that outfit in wonderment and admittedly, some sorrow. You see, I’ve reached an age when the people who governed my life, caring for me, loving on me, wiping my butt and my tears are now moving on, leaving this realm in more than a trickle. Many of us are experiencing the realization that we have big shoes to fill. Strange as it may be, we know death, as the process is referred to in the Western world, is always a part of life.

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I guess I took it for granted that both Richardsons would always be around. They greeted me when I arrived home for the first time wearing that yellow outfit.

But then, Paul Richardson passed away recently.

Many in our community knew Mr. Richardson from his extensive community work in the village and as deacon in the Catholic church. He was a real one, truly living his beliefs in a genuine way. I am sure others who knew him can relay wonderful stories about him. He advocated for human rights, and there are countless stories to add to the mix about his contributions.

To me, he was a funny, gregarious man with a booming voice, an anchoring force in my life. I think I superimposed Mr. Richardson over my own dad, who passed away when I was a sophomore in college, and he remained that way. They both worked at Wright-Patt, part of the influx of African American villagers who moved to the community in the ’60s and ’70s. It didn’t matter that my dad was an engineer and Mr. Richardson worked in procurement, they were both numbers men. Or that my dad was darker complected, they were Black men who wore white, short-sleeve button-down shirts in the summertime, pocket protectors full of pens and thick framed glasses. It wasn’t like we spoke regularly — we didn’t, but he was always present and encouraging.

My mom and Juanita Richardson were both educators, though many folks in town remember Mrs. Richardson from her days working at the Yellow Springs Community Credit Union. She was also my babysitter. Mrs. Richardson still makes a fabulous carrot cake — the only one I’ll eat. We look out for one another, doing things that make neighbors, well, neighbors.

The hardest part of being editor at the News? Oh, there are some notable choices. But by far — seeing the obituaries of all the beloved community people who passed away, who made remarkable contributions to our village. As an aside, I encourage people to treat obituaries as historical documents that tell your loved one’s life story, and the role they played in your family.

Generations later, important information will be gleaned from them.

“All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. The only lasting truth is Change. God is change.”
 —Octavia Butler, “Parable of the Sower”

About six weeks before Mr. Richardson passed away, I was in my backyard, working in the garden, when I happened to look toward the front yard. There they were, Juanita and Paul, sitting side by side in their matching roll aiders, in front of our patch of yellow wildflowers, talking. I started to go over to greet them, but decided not to. There was something just so breathtaking, sacred even, about viewing two elders who made a life commitment to be together, sitting in the evening light of a setting sun, enjoying nature.

Thank God that despite all the public-facing posturing I do, when I get home, multiple identities strip away, and I still get to be Mrs. Richardson’s little Cheryl-bird — especially amusing since I have a good eight inches on her.

And thank you, Mr. Richardson. Rest well in preparation for your ancestral walk about with God across Tefnut’s star-filled skies. You are missed.

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