The Kindness of Mrs. Johnson Lives On

Every once in a while, a person comes into your life just for a season. We’d like it to be longer, but the gift we were given has an expiration date, and for one reason or another, the time comes when the season has ended and the person is gone.

Shortly after I started writing this column back in 2011, I got a letter from a 90-year-old woman. The previous week, I had written about how hard I was finding it to raise three small children and maintain a kind demeanor, especially in my home.

This woman, with great wisdom, gently reminded me to let the sticky fingerprints and the dirty floor go. She told me to relax. She told me I was a good mom. She didn’t even know me, and yet with that one letter, she breathed life into my weary soul.

The next time I got a letter from Mrs. Johnson, she included a $50 check. She told me she greatly valued my words about kindness and wanted to show me in a tangible way.

The third letter I got from Mrs. Johnson included a request: may she write letters to my children?

And that’s when the season of kindness truly blossomed.

I have two large manila envelopes filled with nearly 100 letters sent back and forth between Mrs. Johnson and my now 11-year-old daughter, Jordan.

Jordan would tell Mrs. Johnson things like how spooky she thought our basement was, and Mrs. Johnson would tell Jordan about how she used to have to churn butter in a cellar with a dirt floor and that she would take her dog along for protection from the shadows.

Jordan told Mrs. Johnson about the lunches at Longfellow Elementary, and Mrs. Johnson would write back and tell Jordan about her one-room schoolhouse in rural North Dakota, and how each morning she would put a potato by the fire and by noon it would be baked and ready for lunch.

We visited Mrs. Johnson at her north Fargo home several times. Jordan would sit right next to her on the couch. I have no idea what they talked about, because they kicked me out so they could have some “girl time.”

Before we left, Jordan would always run over and give Mrs. Johnson just “one more hug” about three more times.

We all cried when we visited Mrs. Johnson for the last time before moving to Ohio. We knew we’d keep on writing, but we also knew we’d never see each other again face to face.

Several months after our move, the letters stopped. By this time, Mrs. Johnson was 94. I imagined she was in heaven, and I looked in the obituaries for confirmation, but I could never find her name.

Finally, just last month, I found out that indeed our season with Mrs. Johnson had ended.

I got an email from her daughter explaining the decline in her mother’s health and her eventual passing. I was so grateful to have closure. Mrs. Johnson’s daughter sent me a DVD of the funeral service, and it was through the words of people who had known her much longer than I that I got to hear things about Mrs. Johnson that surprised me and yet, didn’t. The depth and width of her kindness extended far beyond my comprehension.

Mrs. Johnson’s letters serve as an instructional manual on how to love others in an unlovable world. Her check for $50 hangs in a frame on my office wall, still uncashed, as a reminder that you can’t put a price on kindness, and that someone I didn’t even know believed in me and my mission.

It’s sad to lose a friend, whether through death or other circumstances, but it’s better to have had the gift, even for a short time, than to never have had the gift at all.

I look forward to seeing you again, Mrs. Johnson, in a place where we can continue to let our friendship blossom in a season that will never end.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s Men’s Head Basketball Coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday. 

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