Good neighbors are blessings.

Growing up in Elwood, Indiana, I was blessed with wonderful neighbors.

Across Ninth Street were the Myricks, Luther and Ida, who grew up in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. To the West were the Herndons, Dick, Betsy & Carter, to whom we were (and still are) distantly related through our Hope, Indiana connections.  To the South, and across the alley were the Fortners, Don, Susan, Jason, and Laura.  This little core of neighbors, and friends, has always been a warm memory linked to my youth.

The Fortners moved in around 1975.  I believe Susan was expecting their daughter, Laura, who was born on my brother’s birthday, November 4th.  Don was the new printing teacher at Elwood’s vocational school, and proved to be one of the most endeared teachers for many, many years.

At age ten, I already stood a good foot taller than Susan, but that still did not limit her in beating me in a game of H-O-R-S-E at their driveway’s basketball court.  Once, a saleslady came to their door, and asked Susan if she could speak to the ‘woman of the house.’  It took Susan several minutes to convince the lady she was the wife and mother!  Despite her petite size, she was a dynamo of energy, and youthfulness.

One of my first paid jobs was babysitting Jason and Laura on Friday nights while Don and Susan attended Bible study.  I was familiar with their house from spending time there with previous owners: Dutch & Kate Wolff, Nick & Kathy Wolff, and the Cole family.  When I babysat the Fortner children, who were my younger siblings’ ages, I always washed up the supper and snack dishes.  Susan always insisted that I leave the dishes, and always shared with me how when she was a babysitter she always left the dishes unwashed, even when she had made pizzas while on the job.  Still to this day, I chuckle at this memory, for I could never picture Susan leaving a mess, especially in someone else’s home!

As a teenager, Susan was diagnosed with lupus.  Her concrete faith, adorable humor, and insatiable energy never seemed to reveal the battles that raged within the tiny, seemingly fragile frame.  I don’t ever recall her complaining, or even hinting that some days were more of a struggle.  The facade of courage, and  strength, could never hide her perseverance.  Despite the masked health issues, Susan never shirked from demonstrating a true servant’s heart.

The Herndon family moved to South Anderson Street in the late 1970’s, and our family moved from the corner of 9th & Main Streets in 1984.  The Fortners are the only family remaining in the neighborhood that was my youth’s home.

Last night, August 15th, a few minutes before midnight, our neighborhood coterie grew a little smaller when Susan adjusted her new halo, and strapped on her angelic wings.  What our world lost, heaven gained.  I am sure there was a good deal of anticipation above, for the choirs of angels already knew Susan Fortner was truly one of them – long before the order for her halo and wings was prescribed.

Though tears have traced lines down my cheeks this morning, a very large, appreciative smile spreads across my face.  Seldom do we recognize when we have come in contact with angels.  But I know!

I got to play H-O-R-S-E with one!

May choirs and marching bands of musical angels sing Thee to Thy rest, Dear Neighbor Lady!

Photographs courtesy of Don Fortner’s Facebook albums.

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