Nell Sanders Pike was my son’s fourth grade teacher at Roby Elementary. She was the kind of teacher I wish could be in every classroom in every school. She cared about her students. She expected good results from them. She was tough but she was tender.
Travis was in her class the year his beloved Granny, my mother, died, the year when our worlds seemed to collapse. Ms. Pike offered comfort to both of us for she had known sorrow, and from that shared grief experience came a friendship that lasted.
Nell was older and wiser than me. She had been a wife, a mother, a non-traditional older college student, and she had started a new career later in her life out of necessity. I would find myself in each of those roles, and Nell was there to offer me advice and guidance.
She made her home in a neat-as-a-pin house on Lee Street. It was always ready for company because she loved people. If she knew I was coming, my knock on the door would bring a “Come on in.” And I was welcomed.
Nell served many a cup of tea at her kitchen table. Sometimes we shared a simple lunch of chicken salad, fruit and crackers. She always had something to offer from her well-stocked refrigherator.
Most often she sent me home with a little something extra because she said I was “a busy girl.” It might be candy for the grandchildren, the beginnings of supper for Sweet William and me, or a sweet treat she had stashed in her freezer.
We “talked the corners off” her round kitchen table, conversations that were open and honest and never judgmental. We shared things with each other freely because we learned to trust each other. She asked questions out of a genuine interest. Then she listened well.
At birthdays and Christmas, we exchanged simple gifts because it was more about remembering the friendship than the cost of the gift.
During her teaching career, Nell taught her students about Christmas around the world in order to learn the traditions in different country. It was also her way of getting the true meaning of Christmas across to the children, letting them know about the birth of a Savior in a day when separating church and state was the mantra of public school education.
She had a Christmas tree fully decorated each year. I think she could name almost every student whose ornament was hanging there.
One year, she invited her students to come to her home for Christmas stories, cookies and punch, and she asked me to helped her serve. We talked about that experience recently, how it would be nearly impossible to do that sort of thing today. But to Nell it was her way of sharing her life with her students.
Nell’s faith was strong in a God who loves and a Savior who saves. Some days we talked about spiritual things; and often she asked me to pray before I left.
Even as her health began to fail, Nell was still interested in my life. When I came by for a visit or called on the phone to check on her, she never failed to ask about Travis and his family, about Bill and his health.
Nell left her imprint on me. Ever the educator, she challenged me, believed in me, and enticed me to be a forever-learner.
She taught me the importance of friendships, that they are a treasure in one’s life.
She taught me that writing a note of thanks or encouragement is a way to help someone on their journey and that neat penmanship is still in style.
She taught me that a present does not have to be expensive, and that time spent together is the most precious gift we can give.
She taught me not to judge another person because I have not walked in those shoes.
She taught me there is something to be said for being content in your present circumstance.
She taught me that little things make a difference, be it a pretty placemat and folded napkin at the lunch table or the lovely bow on the package.
She taught because she was a teacher at the deepest part of her being.
So often after a visit with Nell when I was about to leave her, she looked at me and said “Peggy, you’re a good girl.” She sort of made me think it was true.
I will miss my friend, Nell Sanders Pike.
I believe God brings people into our lives to make us better, to help us grow, and to learn something from them.
Nell was that kind of person to me. I thank God for how she poured herself into my life. And I will remember Nell.