My Refuge

Mom never allowed me to go see Daddy once he left me alone in the car to fend for myself. It was then I started visiting a family two houses down from him. Dad had taken me over there from time to time so he could visit with Dr. Snyder aka Jack. His wife, Sarah Jayne took a liking to me, and I became enraptured with the entire family. The happiest times of my childhood occurred there, visiting the Snyders.

I told Sarah Jayne about dad leaving me in the car and she in turn told mom. Sarah Jayne offered to allow me to stay with them when I came out, so I could still see dad. Mom agreed.

Sarah Jayne is the kindest person I’ve ever had in my life. She introduced me to the bible and to Jesus. She bought me clothes to wear to Sunday school. She instilled within me the difference between right and wrong. She loved me as if I were her own.

It wasn’t long before I was spending entire summers with the Snyder’s. I loved it there, fantasized about being a permanent part of the family.

I had a lot of firsts during those times. The first time I went to Sunday school and church. The first time I went to vacation bible school. The first time I did a one handed cartwheel at Jack’s urging- you can do it! The first time I played tennis. Sarah Jayne always wanted to have a tennis court and Jack made sure she got one. It was the only outward extravagance I ever saw. Always humble and giving to a fault. In one of her letters she shared with me they saved money for everything they ever had. They never went into debt for anything.

My first crush was Sarah Jayne’s son Robert. He was so handsome. He played the piano and I was determined to learn too. I asked him to show me what he played, and wouldn’t you know it, I was a natural. Picked it right up. The first song I learned on the piano was “Heart and Soul”. That show business gene running rampant in my veins, I guess. The first time I ever ran a mile without stopping was all to impress him. He was running in the summers to get ready for football and allowed me to tag along. He was always a gentleman and treated me like a sister, much to my chagrin.

My very first vacation ever was with them. Jack, a big mountain of a man from Nebraska, owned an old farmhouse that sat on 88 acres. What a trip that was! Imagine if you will, 8 people in a VW bus, with two St. Bernards and a Capuchin monkey. Every small town we stopped at between Texas and Nebraska, you would have thought the circus was in town. The monkey, Bing and the dogs Ben and Barry, were Sarah Jayne’s. The dogs were show dogs that came all the way from Switzerland. Bing the monkey loved her like all the rest of us. Sarah Jayne was the nucleus with the rest of us revolving around her in total adoration.

Ben and I
Ben the St. Bernard and I

That summer stands out in my mind as one of the best summers of my entire life. One of the crops on the farm was soybeans and Jack proposed a deal to me I jumped at. I could weed the rows of soybeans and Jack would pay me $5.00 an hour to do so. They were always looking for ways to give me money without it being charity so to speak. I felt such a sense of accomplishment because of it. I learned the worth and value of hard work. Jack would sit on the back porch  while I worked, watching over me. Wearing his old overalls smoking and whittling.  He whittled me a pair of drumsticks that summer. He patiently rolled his own cigarettes, and wiped the ashes on the knees of his overalls. Never saw anything like that before. Jack was such a disparity. During the week at his office, he was a well-respected psychiatrist who helped a lot of people, my daddy included. Once home, he was the farm boy from Nebraska, rolling his own cigarettes and baking bread. He loved to watch Johnny Carson, because Johnny grew up in Nebraska as a young boy. He built himself a greenhouse and grew orchids, of all things.

Snyder House
The Snyder House

That big old house was always full of people coming and going. Everybody loved coming to the Snyder’s. In the evenings, we would play ping-pong until all hours of the night. Sometimes, a big group of kids from church would gather. We would play hide and seek long after even the fireflies had gone to bed. The house had a huge yard, with lots of places to hide. The parents would sit in lawn chairs on the long driveway and cheer us on to home. Home was always the front porch, but it could be treacherous. There was a small fish pond by the porch and it could be slippery. I skinned my knees more than once on that porch, loving every minute of it.

Sarah Jayne’s daughter, Marilyn was quite a bit older than me. I slept in her bedroom in her big round bed. It always made me feel like a movie star, sleeping in that round bed. One night, Marilyn decides we are going to sneak out of the house. We creep out, taking the two St. Bernards with us. Marilyn puts them in the back of the VW bug. We push the car down the long driveway all the way to the road. I jump in the car, Marilyn starts it up and off we go the Dairy Queen. There we are the center of attraction; two girls with two massive dogs in a tiny black bug. It was a site. We each had a cherry coke. Marilyn talked to one of the boys that gathered around the car. And that was that. Off we went back home. We never got caught. Or Jack and Sarah Jayne decided to let us think we didn’t.

The best thing Sarah Jayne ever did for me was introduce me to God and his love. I accepted Jesus as my savior and was baptized when I was around 12. I have never regretted it. Although there have been times in my life I have forgotten him, he has never forgotten me.

churchSarah Jayne was at church every time the doors opened. She never missed an opportunity to bear witness to the works of the Lord and his love for us. When I grew older, I was never much for organized religion. For me, God is in my garden. I pray a lot there.

Up until about 6 months ago, Sarah Jayne and I exchanged letters. She has a hard time writing now, but even now, at 92, she tells me to serve God. I try to every day.

I can’t imagine what my life may have been like without Sarah Jayne and her faith. Her faith in God, and her faith in me. This much I know; I wouldn’t be here if God weren’t present in my life.

In one of her letters she told me, you were such a wise and beautiful child. Sarah Jayne, I am a reflection of you. Because of you, I now write to bear witness that on more than one occasion, God has literally saved my life. I recognize his presence and I share it with others. I am grateful everyday.

In her letters, she always references this verse from the bible. This is for you, Sarah Jayne.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.-2 Chronicles 7:14

©2017 Linda Lee Lyberg

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