70: Miss Milli and Me

70: Miss Milli and Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Miss Milli and Me

It’s good to have plans and dreams, but don’t be surprised if God brings you somewhere else.

~Anne F. Beiler

I had taken a day off from work to go to a doctor’s appointment, only to have the appointment canceled by his office the night before. The next morning, I tried to make lemons out of lemonade by inviting a friend to lunch, only to have her become ill with a “headache” a half-hour before we were to meet.

I flopped on the sofa contemplating my next move. Days off from work were precious, and I hated the thought of wasting one. Well, I thought, I’ll catch up on my grocery shopping so that this day is not a complete bust. I reached for the stack of supermarket flyers that were delivered to my door weekly. They all advertised the same old, same old: farm fresh, best selection, lowest prices. Then something caught my eye.

A new market had opened several towns away from mine. Sure, it was a haul, but the photos of the newly renovated space made it look spectacular. And the prices! They really were low. There was one more reason why I was so keen on shopping at this market, too. It was in Milli’s old neighborhood.

Miss Milli was that special adult in my childhood — the one who stood out for making a difference. She was my childhood Sunday school teacher, and whether she knew it or not, she guided me through some tough childhood years and helped to shape me into the adult I later became.

She was a true eccentric through and through — an artist, teacher and gallery owner with a flair for the avant-garde. She was everything I aspired to be: boisterous, enthusiastic, creative and joyful — a sharp contrast to the quiet, little girl who sat in her Sunday school class for one hour each week.

I didn’t always have much to be happy about at home during those days. Though my family was kind and loving, and I had many of the creature comforts a child could hope for, my mom and brother both experienced chronic illness that had me confused and afraid much of the time. I never spoke about it in Sunday school, and Miss Milli never asked. She just supported me in the best way she knew how. When she included me in a barbecue with her own children at her home, took me for an impromptu afternoon walk in the park, or spent a few hours giving me painting lessons in her studio, I forgot about the family illness that sometimes overwhelmed me. Afterwards, I came home refreshed and joyful. Just like Miss Milli.

I was tempted to drive past her house, knock on her door even. “Surprise! It’s me! Your Sunday school student from forty years ago!” No, that would be weird, I thought as I pushed my cart through the supermarket’s brand-new aisles. Even though we had kept in touch until I was well into my twenties, Miss Milli probably wouldn’t remember me now. Maybe Miss Milli didn’t even live in this community anymore.

I went back and forth like this in my mind for several minutes. Oh, well, I decided, losing my nerve, I’ll make one more stop at the produce area for that forgotten head of lettuce, and then I’ll just go home. And as fate would have it, there stood Miss Milli, between the onions and the potatoes.

I recognized her immediately. The curve of her shoulders and the unusual curl of her hair gave it away. Excited, I went over to her and introduced myself. Oh, yes, she said, she remembered me, even though I didn’t look quite the same. And then the memories flooded back: the bright Sunday mornings in Sunday school, the church trip she planned for the five girls in our class, the painting lessons, the park and the barbecues. All of it remembered, nothing forgotten.

Then I hugged her and spoke from the heart. “Those were some tough times for me,” I admitted. “The way you cared made a big difference.”

She became teary. “I had no idea.”

That day, Miss Milli and I exchanged phone numbers. By the next week, I was back at her house painting alongside her in her studio. Sometimes, we visited a museum together, and other times we simply shared lunch at my home or hers, two old friends breaking bread. We had a bond and closeness that defied time and age. For two more precious years, until Miss Milli passed away, still vibrant at the age of eight-six, we shared a wonderful friendship.

How many times have I griped over a change in plans? I always want to think I know what’s best for me, and when my plans don’t work out, I become frustrated. But the universe is wiser than me, and on a day fraught with disappointments, the powers that be landed me in just the right place at the right time to continue a special friendship that had started forty years prior. The universe had worked its magic again.

~Monica A. Andermann

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