One of the things Devan and I are trying to be more intentional about is spending quality time with people–taking time to sit and listen and be with those we know well and those we’d like to know better. Today’s visit to some of the dearest brought back grateful memories. My first, of what I hope to be many, posts of 2018 . . .
The year was 1991, the month was July, and the place was Groveland, Florida. Devan and I had just landed in the United States after spending three years in Papua New Guinea as teachers. We were broke, pregnant, and jobless, and many school districts had already hired for the coming year. The Internet was not something available to the general public and even if it had been, we certainly didn’t have a computer, so the job hunt equaled countless hours on the phone, calling districts to request lists of job openings. Chemistry and Physics. Groveland High School. Devan called for an interview and after an initial phone conversation, was asked to come in for a second talk.
Driving up to Groveland High was like going back in time. The building, charming and old, made me smile. Principal Gray, the kind of man who most likely carried a pocket protector at one point in his career, greeted us with a broad smile and firm handshake. While he and Devan went into the office, the school’s administrator introduced herself and showed me around. Her name was Mrs. Potter, Gloria June.
Gloria June Potter is one of those people you never every forget, nor would you ever want to. Petite and lovely with a strong central Florida twang, from the moment I met her I sensed that she would be a Person in my life . . and my sense was correct in every way.
Devan was offered the teaching position that same day and we faced finding affordable housing quickly. The next day a call from Gloria June led us to her neighbor, Mrs. Marie Padgett, who had a rental house that had just come available directly across from the Groveland High School football stadium, a 3 minute walk to the main building. We passed Mrs. Padgett’s rental criteria and found ourselves moving in soon after. Hardly a day would pass without Gloria June stopping by with a casserole or some canned tomatoes or a simple, “How are y’all settling in?”
Gloria June and her husband Bill, a giant of a man deserving of his own story, opened their arms and made us part of their large extended family, including their church family, and it was at church two months after our arrival that Gloria June was with me when I went into premature labor with Sam. His due date of December 20th was usurped by almost three months on a Wednesday evening midweek service and Gloria June held my hand and prayed while Devan called the ambulance. At one of the scariest moments of my life, Gloria June was there. I can remember tears streaming down her face as she whispered, “Father, don’t let this baby die.”
Over the next few months as we made the hour long trip daily to visit Sam at Orlando’s Florida South Hospital, Gloria June cooked and visited and prayed and loved and cried and laughed and supported. Once Sam came home, she helped us find a reasonably priced washing machine so I wouldn’t have to go to the laundry mat with Sam’s diapers. (Yes, I was one of those cloth diaper moms.) She baby sat for free (I would trust very few) so Devan and I could have an outing alone every so often. She and Bill hosted Sam’s first birthday party during a hurricane when the planned park party was cancelled.
Our time in Groveland was not meant to last forever–we soon realized we were only dropping in. Two years after arriving we accepted the offer to teach at the International School of Kenya and began moving plans. There was a window of time between moving out of our rental and departing that we needed a place to live as Devan was still working a part time job for the University of Florida Research department. There was never a question in Gloria June’s mind of where we’d stay while preparing to leave–they offered us a room in their not-so-huge home, a room for which they refused payment. And when we left it was as if their own blood kin was leaving, such was our send off.
Over the years we’ve stayed in touch, stopping in when we were able and when they were home. (Their own hearts took them to all 50 states as well as to northern Canada and India, teaching at Bible schools and loving strangers well. There are many Potter stories to be told.) Our visits always included a table ladened with Gloria June’s amazing country cooking, tons of people, (“I hope you don’t mind. I thought you’d like to see a few folks during your visit.”) and much laughter. Our visits always included Bill’s prayers for safety and mercy and grace. Our visits always overflowed with love.
When Sam and Heather were planning their wedding, it was Gloria June who called to offer the gift of a wedding cake. The tiered cake and cupcakes were beautiful to the eyes and delicious to the taste. The photo of Sam, Heather, Gloria June and the gorgeous cake serves as a testimony of friendship that endures distance and years. She was there the night he was born and 22 years later, she was there the night he was wed, still giving, still loving.
Today Devan and I drove to Groveland to start our year off with a Potter visit. Just like much of Florida, parts of Lake County are unrecognizable as growth encroaches former farm land. But there on Waldo Street, time has stopped. Their dear red brick home–the home originally belonging to Gloria June’s mother–still welcomes (it does have a new tin roof and they enclosed their carport and the new bathroom is lovely) and the dining room table is still laden with far too much home cooking. Bill moves a bit slower but his sharp mind is quick and engaging. Gloria June pats his hand and the conversation often includes their words of appreciation towards each other. They hosted 18 for New Year’s Day dinner. They have plans for a spring garden. They gave us homemade pepper vinegar to take home. They asked that we not wait so long to visit. They prayed for our safety and peace.
Gloria June and Bill are examples of lives well lived. They display true character and charity when our country seems to have fewer and fewer examples of what it means to authentically extend the hand of Christ. They are the kind of people Devan and I long to be as we age–generous, welcoming, non-judgmental, wise. Even an iota of their hearts would make us better people.
In 1991 I met a woman named Gloria June who taught me how real love must be active and out-flowing; in 2018 I’m still learning from her.