There comes a moment when you come face to face with a hard reality: You have lived long enough to see a way of life come to an end.That moment came for me last weekend, when I learned that Christine Sponsler had died.I first got to know Christine almost 20 years ago, the very first year I began writing for what was then called Cabarrus Neighbors. Christine wrote me in response to a column I had published. I wrote back.Those were the days of handwritten notes, and that is how we communicated for quite some time.Christine was then in her 70s. I learned from our correspondence that she loved writing and music. She was a college graduate, a woman of fine and elegant manners and excellent taste.Over the years, we met for lunch in downtown Concord a couple of times. We talked, as I recall, about how it felt for me to live in North Carolina.We laughed about my various experiences with culture shock.After all, when I first moved to Cabarrus County back in the early ’90s, I was a young mother from the Midwest. I had grown up among frank people who spoke their minds.The Midwesterners I knew liked facts, and they liked stating them in clear, definite and specific terms. They did not waste time elaborating; there was always too much to do.After I came to the Piedmont, I began to learn a whole new way of being from Southern acquaintances and friends. Graciousness was valued highly. No one said anything too directly, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.If anyone had something critical to say about some person, they prefaced their remarks by blessing the heart of the transgressor first.Southerners inevitably made sure to assure me that they could not imagine that anyone in the world would actually mean any harm. They convinced me that errors were human. They tried to persuade me to stop doing all the things there were to do, or at least to slow down.Christine took all the best I ever experienced in Southern culture and made it even finer. She cared to make people feel comfortable, to be ready with a welcome that was thoroughly heartfelt. I used to think that next to the word “gracious” in the dictionary, someone ought to just write “Christine Sponsler.”Then for many years, I lost contact with Christine. Her cards ceased. I thought that she might have died.Then, last year, I got a card in the mail. I opened the envelope; there was no return address, nor was the card signed. But I recognized the handwriting, though it was so much shakier than I remembered.The very venue that had given me the opportunity to get to know Christine helped me find her again. I wrote about her last February. A reader knew exactly who I was writing about. Within days I got to talk to Christine again.She knew who I was when I called, although she had reached her mid-90s. She remembered me. She remembered our correspondence, and she remembered having lunch downtown.She was graciousness itself.I would like to believe Christine’s way of life is still to be found in this world – in the place I have now called home for 21/2 decades. I fear that with her passing, and the passing of others of her generation, an era may have come to an end.But if it has, Christine, it hasn’t yet been forgotten.May that memory – a memory you helped create with your cheerful and loving presence – be a blessing for all who knew you.It certainly is for me.
Friday, Nov. 01, 2013
Christine Sponsler was a beacon of graciousness
Barbara Thiede is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Barbara? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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