"...Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it... (from Psalm 127:1)
A few days ago as I walked along the small one-way street in a residential neighborhood just outside downtown Framingham, Massachusetts, I saw them: The two "look alike/side by side" houses. They're painted very different colors from the colors that adorned them thirty years ago. And, they've been "fixed up" quite a bit. They've been changed and they've been updated. They don't even look quite their eighty-three-years of age! There are "new" people living in those houses; well, they're relatively new people, compared to the long term residents who'd previously occupied them.
I'm no architectural or home design expert. I couldn't tell you the name of the style of these houses. Each is a two story house, and that doesn't include an attic at each edifice. Each has a basement. Each house has a very nice porch. They're definitely "porches" and not "decks"! What's unusual is that each has a side porch. On each house, the porch is on the right side as you look at the house from the street. And, the front door is really not a "front door" at either residence. In each case, it's a side door accessed through the porch. [Each house does have a back door.]
The house's numbers are seventy-three and sixty-seven. I know, it seems weird that they're side by side yet there's a gap in the street numbers. I'm not sure why that's the case. Today, seventy-three is painted beige and sixty-seven is a very pretty yellow. Today, each house has a nicely paved driveway. That's possibly the most radical change to the houses. For most of these houses' lives, they not only had no garages but they had no driveways. I don't think either even had a "curb cut" from the sidewalk. Today, seventy-three has a driveway with no curb cut! I'm not even sure if it was legal to put in a driveway that way, but whoever owns seventy-three did just that! As I recall, sixty-seven does have a curb cut for the driveway, but there's a telephone pole awkwardly almost blocking the driveway. Pulling into or out of that driveway has got to take a little skill!
My family and I moved to Framingham in 1987 when I accepted the pastorate position at First Assembly of God of Framingham. The church's name always made it sound rather important, but in fact, it was always a small, struggling church. The occupants of each house had a strong connection to the church. "Rachel", nearing age eighty when I moved in, lived at seventy-three. During the years she lived there, it was not painted beige but rather gray. "Rachel" was a retired college professor. She co-owned the house with a dear friend I will call "Pam". "Minnie" lived at number sixty-seven. She was about age ninety when I moved in. Rachel and "Pam" had purchased their home in 1958, but Minnie had lived in her brown house right from its beginning in 1932. Rachel was not a Member of our church, but she was a regular attender. About six weeks after I moved into Framingham, I received a phone call from Minnie. I had a bit of a difficult time understanding her, as she spoke with a thick Irish brogue. Minnie invited me to visit her at home and told me she had something very important to ask me. The visit to Minnie was fascinating. I learned she'd come to this country from Northern Ireland very early in the twentieth century. She'd been in Framingham for many, many decades, and was a very early "Pentecostal"- from the era when Pentecostals were truly persecuted and considered "people from the other side of the tracks". Minnie had been a Member of our church almost from its very beginning. She'd married and raised a family. For some reason, her family was not particularly keen about our church. So, for many, many years, she and her family attended the Nazarene Church in town. Ironically, Minnie had met Rachel when she'd moved in next door, and had encouraged her to visit the Assembly of God and not the Nazarene Church. That's how Rachel had started attending. [Rachel was open to the "things of the Spirit" but was not from a Pentecostal background and was never comfortable about becoming a Member at our church.] The important thing that Minnie had wanted to ask me is if I would conduct her funeral service when she died. I told her that I would do that.
During my first couple of years in Framingham, I visited Minnie at least once a month. She was amazingly hearty, healthy, and mentally sharp for someone over age ninety. Sadly, after a couple of years, Minnie suffered a massive stroke. I visited her a few times at a local nursing home. She was pleasant but she was just not the same. One day, I noticed Minnie's obituary in the local newspaper. Her funeral was being conducted at a Lutheran Church- where some of her children and grandchildren attended. I thought of my promise to Minnie that I'd conduct her funeral service. Rachel and I had a phone conversation about this. Rachel believed very strongly that I should kind of push myself on the family and tell them Minnie wanted me to conduct the funeral service. I felt guilty and uncomfortable, but I just didn't feel right about doing that. I was a young, fairly inexperienced pastor in my early thirties when I'd made that promise to Minnie. Today, if I made a promise of that sort, I'd insist that the information all be written down, and that the person make sure he or she communicated their wishes about their funeral to their heirs. Minnie's house sat empty for many years. The family kept it from falling into disrepair, but it was sad to see it just sitting there, looking so lonely and empty.
Rachel was still driving a car (she bought a brand new Dodge Aries in 1988) and very active during my early years at the church. She owned a place near Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire in those days, and she went up there quite a bit each summer. Sadly, by the late 1990s, Rachel's health had failed quite a bit. She became legally blind, and so she had to stop driving. She sold the summer place. Her "house mate" Pam died. She loved to read, and now was unable to do so. Rachel had many happy memories of her past, but she was very unhappy in her present. In those days (around 2000) I used to help her out by bringing her recycling bin out to the street each Thursday and bringing it back after it had been emptied. I also once mowed her lawn. She'd hired various people to cut the lawn, but was in-between lawn cutters and the grass was about three feet tall! I remember I worked really hard that day, but I was glad I was helping Rachel. She was a great student of the Bible and would sometimes talk to me on the phone for up to an hour discussing Scripture verses and passages that meant a lot to her. Somewhere around 2003, she went into a very nice nursing home and sold the house. Rachel died in 2007. She was ninety-eight! She'd had some dementia over her last couple of years. I conducted her funeral service. The burial was in the family plot in Lynn; except that like "The Last of the Mochicans" she was the very last of her family. She was an only child. There were no living cousins. That part was rather sad, but Rachel had touched a lot of lives during her distinguished career as a professor and many fine words of eulogy were spoken during her funeral by a number of people. And, of course, it must be remembered again that it was Minnie who'd convinced Rachel to get involved with First Assembly of God of Framingham. So, I did do a funeral service for one of these dear old gals, it's just that it was for Rachel and not for Minnie.
Yes, I paused and reflected as I looked at those two "look alike/side by side" houses a few days ago. And, I thought I'd share some of my reflecting with you.