Who’s your neighbor?

Francis preferred card-playing to church-going. And she liked to smoke. At Francis’ funeral, her minister asked, “What can you say about Francis?” The congregation of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church laughed. Francis never fit anyone’s image of an older, proper black church lady. What was there to say?

Francis rented the small, government-subsidized house next to my father-in-law Lonnie’s refrigeration business. Lonnie never missed church and never smoked. Growing up in in the Nazarene Church in Eastern Kentucky, he’d been taught that cards and cigarettes were the work of the devil.

When Francis lost at cards, which was often, she’d ask Lonnie, “Mr. Slone, can I borrow $20? I’ll pay you back.” Lonnie always gave her the money. Francis always paid it back, but less than a day later she would ask for it again.

Francis was rough, she gambled and smoked, but she could also cook. She often brought over homecooked dishes. It was her way of being a good neighbor.

Francis’ heavy smoking took its toll, and she was frequently hospitalized. During one hospital stay, Lonnie found her house full of roaches. He fumigated the place, cleaned and vacuumed, and took her bedding home to wash.

When Francis could no longer take care of herself, Lonnie made sure she was cared for in a nice nursing home.

One thing you could say about Francis: she was the neighbor of Lonnie Slone.

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