How a Shadow Colored My World

I just made an appointment to get my nails done. Not because I take great pride in my nails. I’m a writer, not a hand model. But because of Patty, the manicurist, who is my back-door neighbor. To give you a taste of what I love about Patty, let me back up.


One summer night not long after we moved to suburbia, Scott and I and the kids were enjoying a quiet spring evening on the deck when we heard a boisterous voice cut through the cool air like an ax… “Miya! Miya! Get the #&%% back here!” In that same moment we saw a chubby little black and white Boston Terrier round the corner of her yard and disappear faster than lightening between our fence and our next-door neighbor’s. Clearly, the escapee was Miya. It was through that and many future acts of escape artistry that  we were first introduced to Miya’s owner, the woman with that big voice.


Patty is the kind of character every good movie should have… and certainly every suburban neighborhood. She has never met a stranger and everyone on the block knows her name. She adds color and personality to the patch of beige houses around her, not to mention an extremely “vivid” vocabulary – one that secretly cracks me up but I don’t want my children repeating.


I had often heard her out in her garden or talking to her daughter from the patio, but I rarely saw her because there are several trees that block the view between our deck and her patio. It seemed, judging from her voice, that this woman was one tough mama. She didn’t seem to feel the need to impress anyone. She was just Patty.  Take it or leave it.



My next-door neighbor, Jodi, happened to mention to me one day that she had made an appointment for Patty to do her nails… and I stopped her mid-conversation to say, “Hold on, wait a second. Patty? Back-door neighbor Patty? Does nails?!”


“Yep!” Jodi replied. And Jodi would know. Her dog, Shadow, and Patty’s dog, Miya, played together often and the ladies talked over the fence while the dogs ran around in Jodi’s fenced-in yard.


I had always pictured manicurists being more… dainty. Not that I would know. I hadn’t had much experience getting my nails done. But I would’ve guessed Patty to be someone who would think manicured nails was for sissies. Or maybe it was just me who thought that. Regardless, I was really intrigued by this side of Patty I wouldn’t have imagined.


Not not long after the conversation about the manicure, Jodi had to put Shadow down. It was an extremely difficult decision that Jodi took very hard, and she asked me to tell Patty because she didn’t think she could do it. I met Patty at the corner where her yard meets the corner of mine and I informed her that Miya’s playmate, Shadow, had to be put down. Patty’s reaction floored me. She immediately burst into tears and grabbed her face as if I had just informed her that her own child was gone. She was heartbroken.  Immediately she began to fire questions about what happened.  I knew at that moment why Jodi didn’t want to be the one who broke this news to Patty.


After being the bearer of bad news about Shadow, I wanted to cheer Patty up and get to know her better, so I made an appointment to get my nails done. Her price is far better than any of the shops or salons around, and I admired her for wanting to own her own business. Plus my nails were horrendous. They usually are. So it was a win-win to get my nails done by someone whose business I wanted to support.


When I made the appointment, she made a point of inviting my daughter to come, too. She had seen Riley around the neighborhood and thought she was sweet, so she offered to do her nails for practically nothing. The following Saturday, Riley and I crossed the backyards for our appointment.


When we walked into Patty’s house, she surprised us once again. Her home was spotless, organized, and beautifully decorated with soft colors and flowers. Her nail studio was the perfect blend of professional, feminine and comfortable. We were also greeted by Patty’s daughter, Talia, who was in a wheelchair. I would guess Talia suffers from severe cerebral palsy but I didn’t ask. It didn’t matter. She had difficulty speaking or controlling her movements, but Patty could understand every word she said. We all enjoyed non-stop conversation and had a completely enjoyable time together. Patty had a special knack for including Talia in the conversations while helping us know what she was trying to communicate, so the young woman never once had reason to feel left out just because conversation took more effort for her. I could see that taking care of this 20-something-year-old child would not be possible for Patty if she didn’t have this business in her home where she could stay close and attend to her daughter’s many needs.  I was, at that moment, more glad than ever to give Patty some business.


While my nails were drying, Patty’s phone rang. She picked it up, laughed, and proceeded to carry on the rest of the conversation in fluent Italian. My jaw almost physically dropped. My heart sank, too. A few obscenities over the fence and had her pigeonholed as something she wasn’t. This woman is a smart, responsible, artistic and multi-faceted woman with a powerful survivor spirit… who happens to also speak fluent Italian.


On the short walk back home, Riley told me… “You know, Patty acts all tough… but she is really nice when you get to know her.” Riley has a very special way of seeing a person’s heart.  And I took that opportunity to tell Riley how true that was, and how important it is not to make assumptions about people.  But really, I was talking to myself, too.


 I can’t wait ‘til this Tuesday at 5:00. That’s my next appointment. Riley and I will get our nails looking nice for spring, support a locally owned business and perhaps even uncover a few more of the mysteries residing in Patty’s strong but tender heart. Whenever I look at my nicely polished nails I want to remember to look at the people around me without the self-righteous filter that keeps people at an arms-length. I want to see people in full color, and experience the detail and complexity that makes them unique.  For once, I didn’t miss that chance with Patty… thanks to Shadow.

9 thoughts on “How a Shadow Colored My World

Add yours

  1. Emily I just love reading your blog! What an opportunity God has given to you to share Christ with Patty. I will be praying for that perfect, God designed time.

    Love you girl!


  2. I am sitting here over 2,000 miles away crying over your incredible words. You never cease to amaze me, Em! God has truly given you a gift of capturing life in words. I miss you!


  3. Emily,
    Again, a home run. You painted a great picture for us as well as shared a good lesson. If only we could all “remember to look at the people around me without the self-righteous filter that keeps people at an arms-length.” Imagine what it would look like if we all took the time to open the book before deciding to read it based on the cover.


  4. Hi, Emily, what a beautiful post — a great reminder about the awesome opportunities for relationship, connection and impact that await us if we just pay attention. I really enjoyed that.

    Warm regards,

    Andrea Emerson


  5. What a sweet and compelling word picture of your neighbor Patty. I love her already. Fluent Italian, you say? Wow!

    A few years ago, there was a little boy around 8 or 9 in our neighborhood that used to sneak over here and climb the trees in our front yard. I’d look out the window and see him perched on a branch as high as he could climb. I’d coax him down, yell at him and tell him to never do that again—-he’s gonna break his neck……but he’d be right back the next day. I thought to myself, there is a juvenile deliquent in the making! I’d hate to be his folks! Then one day I opened the local newspaper to see a picture of him on the front page——he had just won the state chess championship—junior division!! Next time I found him in our tree, I asked him about it, and he said yes, he loves to play chess and would I like to try and beat him? I played chess with him that day, he won, and I was once more reminded to not judge a book by it’s cover. Only you said it much better, Em!

    Love your blog!


  6. Hey Em,
    Absolutely a God inspired message! And how right you are.

    Just wanted to tell you about yesterday. Laura has been accepted at Christpher Newport Univ. and yesterday was an open house so at 6:30AM we left and drove down. From the beginning, I had not be “sold” on her going there but all doubt was removed by the school’s President’s remarks.

    He gave the normal Rah Rah for the school but then got into what the school was really about. While we love the class size and the emphasis the School places on academics, one remark he made really hit me. While I almost fell out of my seat when he; as President of a public University, referred to God and His leading in the way he, President Trible (yes, the former US Senator) leads the school he next comment was just what this world needs to hear.

    He was talking about the moral values the School embraced and then he paused, walked to the middle of the stage and said: “If you forget everything I have said this morning, I want you to remember this; it is the most important thing that I will expect from you as a student at CNU. When you are walking these grounds, when you cross someone’s path, you will look them in the eye and speak to them. And I want you to do this, not to be polite; but for you to realize their value to our community and to validate, to them, their worth.”

    What an answer to prayer for us to know that Laura will be in a place that puts people first; what a refreshing and blessing in today’s “me first” world.

    Love you guys

    PS: I will have to tell you all about her roomate someday! An umbelieveable story.


  7. Emily, What a beautiful story, and what a great lesson that you taught Riley. You always have such great life lessons. I would hope to be as strong as Patty.


  8. Emily, what a wonderful piece of your life you have shared with us. And with it, the gentle reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

    Well done!


  9. Hi Emily, I haven’t been reading online often these days… Encountering this story about Patty really touches me. She has a strong will which is to be learned by ladies of today. We have 101 problems to face, and many-a-times we’re crushed by circumstances around us – work, family, relationship issues… I’m again fired up reading your blog. Thanks a lot for making a difference in my life through your writings…

    By the way, please pray for my family… My dad has final stage stomach cancer and he refused western meds treatment as well as chinese meds treatment, which he’s currently undergoing. We’re going to try an alternative therapy and see how it goes… We just found out about the cancer early February and the staging was finally confirmed when he underwent a surgery (which was supposed to remove his stomach but eventually abandoned when the doctors found peritoneal seedlings and confirmed his cancer to be in stage IV). My family was devastated, especially my dad. Until now he is still questioning why he’s suffering such sickness and pain when he has been a good man compared to the crooks and the thieves. Sometimes I’m lost for words when it comes to how God could have loved us through sickness and deadly diseases. I know He does. I just don’t know how to tell him. I’ve not been a good daughter, and I know my words had been harsher than intended yet I don’t know how not to be nicer at the point of devastation whenever I see him.

    I’m flying to and fro from East Malaysia to West Malaysia whenever I can, thanks to the cheaper flight rates offered by the competitor of our national air carrier.

    Anyway, Emily, thanks for the entries that remind me how great God is in our everyday lives. May God bless you and your family through this time of global economic recession.

    Cindy C.


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