By Amy McCollom
Darla Sue Eslinger was born a few months before I was born. She was a surprise baby to her older parents who thought their baby-making days were over. They already had raised ten kids, and most of them had their own kids. Her dad was old enough to be our Grandpa. We called him Grandpa Harv.
Their big old house was a gray farmhouse, hidden from the road by thick trees and a long crooked lane. Rugged and worn from the weather, it was as humble as they come. Just inside the screen door was a potbelly woodstove with piles of logs next to it. In the middle of the room was a worn kitchen table surrounded by mismatched chairs of all sorts. This is where everyone played Euchre. There was a metal trough sink along one wall, with a pump on the counter for water. There was always a big galvanized bucket of water and a metal ladle hanging on the wall if anyone got thirsty. There was also a big red pump outside by the concrete horse trough.
My friend and “cousin” Darla had a small room on the back porch, just big enough for a single bed and dresser. She did not have many clothes at all and only three pairs of shoes. We didn’t spend much time indoors when we visited her; she always had something to do. We would help her feed the chickens, chase the goats back into the pen, feed the baby ducks, throw old bread into the pond for the fish, or just go play tag with all of the kids that were there. There were always lots of kids there. Trisha, Lori, Lisa (she was deaf), Dudes, Jesse James, Vonny, Newt (Newton), and many others. Animals too, like ducks and chickens and guineas, and piglets. And of course, Buster, the hound dog that lived in the dog house by the fence.
In the summers, we would bring Darla home with us for a week or two. I asked her how she got her clothes to smell so good, and she told me that her and her mom just washed them in the wringer washer on the porch and hung them to dry, so “Sunshine and Downy, I guess!” She had the friendliest laugh that was contagious. Darla was always happy.
While my sister and I wanted to go to the pool, or listen to records, or hang out with friends, Darla wanted to wash the dishes and dust and vacuum. And it wasn’t even Saturday! We tried to tell her that she was a guest and didn’t have to do any of that, but she still worked hard every day. She never left as much as a dirty fork in the kitchen sink longer than five minutes. She never once complained about it. She was always cheerful and smiling. Always giving and doing for others. She actually liked doing housework. My mom loved when she came to stay with us.
I got to really thinking about her, and it hit me hard. As teenagers in the late 70’s, we had a nice bathroom and later when we moved, even two bathrooms. Darla had an outhouse. We could turn a thermostat dial to make our house warmer. Darla had to start a fire and bring heavy wood into the house from outside.
We had a washing machine and dryer and complained about putting away our own clothes. Darla had to wash her clothes outside on an old wringer washer and hang them to dry.
We turned a knob for hot or cold water. She had to pump buckets full, and warm them on the stove for hot water. We had cable tv. She had no tv. at all. We had a phone in every bedroom and kitchen and living room. She had no phone at all. We had no right to complain that our life was difficult. She had every right to, but not once did Darla ever complain or say life was unfair. I feel awful that I just now realized all of that.
Darla had a heart of gold. She was the most giving person I have ever known. Last week Darla passed away due to a rare type of cancer. She knew where she was going and she was ready, she told me. But I wasn’t ready to lose my friend.
Even in death, she gave her all. Darla donated her body to science. I’m sad that I don’t get to say goodbye in a traditional way. But Darla was anything but traditional. Darla was extraordinary. I just never got the chance to tell her that.
Stop and take time to tell the people in your life how much you love them, how much you recognize the mountains they have climbed to get where they are. Tell them you see how great they are. Tell them when you think they are doing a fantastic job. Tell them when you are overwhelmed by their actions. Everyone needs to hear how extraordinary they are. Do it while you have the chance. Trust me.