Six-year-old Emily showed up at our house because she was hungry, and her stepfather didn’t allow her to come home during the day. After that, she became a wonderful part of my life. But, when I knew my transfer day was coming, I became concerned about who would watch out for her. I quickly realized, however, that there were many who would do so.
As fall came, and Emily started back to school, she continued to ride her bike to our house for breakfast, and returned after school for dinner. Her school was close to where we lived, so it worked out well. Each morning, my landlady, Mrs. Salak, made sure that Emily had on neat, clean clothes, and that her hair was brushed. Emily had mostly quit swearing, but she hated having her hair brushed, and swore a bit then. With all of the care Mrs. Salak gave her, Emily started fitting in better at school. She didn’t get teased as much and ended up fighting less, coming to dinner with fewer bruises.
When my transfer notice came, I knelt in front of her and started to explain that I was going to be leaving. I hadn’t even finished before she burst into tears and threw her arms around my neck, holding me so tightly I could hardly breath as she cried, “No, no, no, no!”
When she finally calmed down, I had her look at me, and then explained that she now had lots of friends to watch over her. Mrs. Salak told Emily that she wanted her to continue coming over, and that she would feed and take care of her as I had.
When I was transferred, it was hard to say goodbye. I wish I could say Emily’s life was perfect after that, but nothing works that way. The abuse Emily received from her stepfather became worse, and the state threatened to take her away. That was when her mother came to visit Mrs. Salak. Rather than lose her daughter into state custody, they worked it out for Emily to live with Mrs. Salak where Emily’s mother could come visit.
From then on, Emily was raised mostly by Mrs. Salak and the kind people of the church and community. Mrs. Salak was in her 70’s by then, and it was challenging for her to take care of an obstinate little girl. And when Emily reached her teens, the challenge became greater still. But it was Mrs. Salak’s values that Emily grew to emulate, values of honesty, thrift, hard work, and virtue.
In return, it was Mrs. Salak who was there to see Emily go to her first prom. It was Mrs. Salak who proudly stood with Emily in her high school graduation pictures. And it was Mrs. Salak who held the place of honor as Emily’s mother at Emily’s wedding when Emily married a wonderful young man she met at church.
Mrs. Salak was old by then, in her late 80’s. She never had a lot of money, but what she did have she usually spent on Emily. The members of the church all pooled resources for a beautiful reception, and Mrs. Salak even had a new dress, probably the only one she had ever had in all the years she was raising Emily.
After the wedding, Emily had a new family to love her, her husband’s, and she grew to love them, too. Mrs. Salak only lived a few more years after the wedding, but it was long enough for her to be able to hold Emily’s first child, a girl, whom they lovingly named Lavinia. Lavinia was Mrs. Salak’s first name, and she was proud of her namesake, loving her as if she was her own granddaughter, for in reality, she truly was.
It has been many years since then. Lavinia is now a beautiful young lady, and has other siblings. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that Emily was that swearing little six-year-old girl that sought me out because she thought I was one of the angels someone had told her were sent to help people. But through her I learned that there truly are angels all around us.
And to me, Mrs. Salak and Emily definitely were two of them.