There are some people who make an impression on your heart that transcends age and all manner of differences. I met Barbara Wickham a few years ago when I lived in a condo on Washington Boulevard in Oak Park. I walked my dog, Frankie, a small white and tan terrier with boundless energy, several times a day. He pulled me around the neighborhood and helped me get more familiar with my new home.

One of the first people we met on our dog-walking treks was Barbara Wickham. A slight woman in her 70s or 80s who looked like a good breeze would carry her away, Barbara seemed to be everywhere. Whenever I walked Frankie, we’d invariably cross paths. Frankie learned quickly to act like a good boy, sit nicely and smile for Barbara.

Even though she didn’t have a dog of her own, the pockets of her frayed windbreaker were filled with treats for all the neighborhood dogs, with whom she was on a first-name basis. I learned over time through speaking with Barbara that she was a great lover of all animals. She’d pull out pictures she clipped from the paper of whales or other creatures. I found out that her frequent walks were to a woman’s home who was ill and needed her dogs walked. Barbara fulfilled her duty religiously, even though the woman she cared for wasn’t always particularly grateful.

I moved from Oak Park four years ago but have stayed in contact with my former neighbor. In today’s era of e-mails and Myspace, we still communicate the old fashioned way, with note cards and letters. I send her photos of Frankie and tell her about his new home in St. Louis. She replies back with updates on her life.

Her most recent letter arrived today, several months after my last letter to her. I was starting to worry that she might have moved, or worse. Her letter started out pure Barbara, asking about Frankie. Then she relayed that she hasn’t been getting out much to see her other dog “customers” in the neighborhood because of a leg injury last winter. Finally, she noted that she lost her job recently at a day care center. Her words affected me more deeply than I would have imagined possible. I could easily say that I hardly know the woman, but that wouldn’t be accurate. On our respective walks, when our divergent lives intersected, albeit briefly, I saw more of her heart and soul than many of the people I consider close friends.

I hope the Oak Park community values the treasure they have in a woman like Barbara. There are people in everyone’s lives who may not have a direct connection, but still leave an indelible mark. A life’s legacy is the impression you make on others, in large ways and small. To me, Barbara is a hero.

Lisa Brown
St. Louis Business Journal (former staffwriter for the Wednesday Journal)

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