An interview with Nelda Spaur...
What Am I Doing Here?
By Bill and Brenda Evans
At Nelda Spaur’s house you get a gracious smile, a handshake, and her most comfortable chair. She insists. Last October, as leaves turned from green to red in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we visited Nelda in Gordonsville, Virginia. Single and 85, she talked to us about what she’s doing with her life.
Bill: When I first called to ask if we could interview you, you said you’d had a recent setback and weren’t exactly young anymore, yet you seemed cheerful and optimistic? How do you manage that?
Nelda: You work at it. When I sit down to eat three meals a day, and there’s no one there but me, it’s lonely. So I read—newspapers, mysteries, Christian books…any good story. It stops my loneliness. We have a good library. Used to be an old Catholic church, but it’s renovated now and is a really good place. Of course, neighbors call, too, or friends come by, or my daughter and I go to lunch.
Bill: Sounds as if you purposefully storm the gates of loneliness.
Nelda: I do. I’m optimistic by nature, and I like to do things. Sometimes I’ll call a girlfriend, and we’ll go to the Ruritan’s bingo club. We take a covered dish and little gift bags, something like a cup of soup or cookies. If you bingo, you get to pick a little bag. It’s all in fun. Then we eat and tell jokes or funny stories. I usually tell something to make people laugh.
Bill: So laughter and activity are two answers for your loneliness?
Nelda: They are. I have a friend who is alone and doesn’t even try to interact. You have to pull conversation out of her. So, she’s always sad. Of course, I have a disadvantage, too. I can’t take my baby anymore, so I have to depend on somebody else.
Brenda: Your baby? Do you mean a boyfriend?
Nelda: (laughter) No, my car. My family won’t let me drive it now, but I still call it my baby. The day I bought it, I was driving along punching buttons and turning knobs to see what all the gadgets were for. Somehow, I got the emergency flashers going and couldn’t figure out how to turn them off. So I pulled over, and a policeman stopped and asked me if I was in trouble. I told him I was, that I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the flashers. He asked how long I’d owned my car. I grinned and told him two hours. So he showed me how to work everything.
Brenda: And you call it your baby because you had to learn how to tend to it.
Nelda: Yes, but since last May, I haven’t driven.
It’s like that robin that landed on my patio last winter after a big snow. He looked out of place. Then he turned his head to the side and looked at me like he was saying, “What am I doing here?”
Brenda: Why not?
Nelda: It started with breathlessness and erratic heartbeat. Then things got really bad. I lost all memory from May to July. I quit smoking back in 1980, but you know your sins will still find you out. So, I’m on oxygen around the clock, don’t go upstairs unless someone is here, and can’t drive my baby. But I still get out because I’ve got my angels.
Bill: Your angels?
Nelda: My 73-year-old neighbor across the street, my daughter and daughter-in-law. They’re my angels, people who are really good to me, who want to take care of me. I guess my mother was the first. For years, she was an invalid with polycystic kidney disease. But when I was 15 and got saved at youth camp, she said that was all she had been living for. She was so good to me. The very next month she died.
Three years later, my father also died. He had been a cook in France during World War I and was gassed. He never got over it. After the war, he was a chicken farmer in Mart, Texas, but that was bad for his lungs. When I was two, we moved to Washington, D.C. He took a job in animal husbandry at the National Zoo but still coughed all the time.
After he died, I was 18 and alone. My mother’s best friend took me in. Aunt Myrtle, I called her. She was an angel to me. I went to Strayer Business College for a year, then on to Carson-Newman College for two years. I eventually ended up in insurance, was licensed, and handled the walk-in business for an agency for many years.
The Lord has put such good people in my life. My favorite verse is 2 Timothy 1:12: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.”
Bill: But, Nelda, Paul couched those words in a passage on suffering. Trusting the Lord when we are suffering isn’t easy.
Nelda: No, it’s not, but the Lord is good. Without Him, during my two marriages, I would not have made it. My second marriage ended in divorce, and my first husband, who had polio when he was younger, eventually developed terrible pain and began drinking to stop the misery. When I drove in the driveway each day after work, I didn’t know if I would find him dead or alive. One time, he sent me out of our bedroom and wouldn’t let me back in. I didn’t know what might happen. In the end, his death came quickly.
Financially, I carried us both for a long time, but the Lord took care of us because I didn’t forget Him. When the Lord puts money in my hand, I give at least a tithe back to Him. Always have.
Bill: Speaking of finances, you told me that you have a gift annuity at Free Will Baptist Foundation. How do you deal with financial issues?
Nelda: I took out the gift annuity in the 1990s after I sold a piece of property. The income has been good, plus a tax benefit. I also have IRAs and a monthly check from family mineral rights, so I know what is coming in. Each month, I write down my bills and tithe. Frivolous stuff and charities like Salvation Army and the Cancer Society come out of anything left.
I’ve also already paid for my funeral. Plus, I’m doing a special endowment for each of my great-grandchildren. When they are 18, that money will be there for them.
Brenda: I’ve been looking over your spoon collection. What’s that all about?
Nelda: I like to travel, and I’ve bought them as reminders of the places I’ve been.
Brenda: What was your favorite trip?
Nelda: A mission trip to Mexico. It changed me, made me think, especially about my prayer life. I had always believed in missions, but teaching 15 little children every day through a translator in a tiny apartment in Hidalgo made me understand that just being grateful for my own salvation was not enough. I needed to share Him with others.
It’s like that robin that landed on my patio last winter after a big snow. He looked out of place. Then he turned his head to the side and looked at me like he was saying, “What am I doing here?” That’s what the mission trip did for me. Made me think about what I am doing here.
An hour after leaving Nelda’s home, we pulled onto Skyline Drive and headed north into the autumnal reds and oranges of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But we took a part of Nelda with us. Her cordiality, her laughter, and especially her shimmering last words: What am I doing here?
About the Writers: Bill Evans, former director of the Free Will Baptist Foundation, lives in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, with his wife Brenda, a retired English teacher. Visit www.fwbgifts.org for more information on planned giving that benefits your favorite ministry.