For the past twenty years or more, an area church on a busy highway has been known for the spectacular flower bed out by its sign.
Members took pride in the flower bed. "I go to the church with the nice flowers by the sign," they'd say, and everybody from a fifty-mile radius would know just which church they meant even though there are many other churches with flowers by their sign.
The woman behind the flowers was Marlys. She picked out the flowers, she planted them, she watered them and she picked off the dead blooms.
Marlys had the touch. And she took the time. Marlys was a caretaker, and the flowers were her pride and joy.
When Marlys passed away last spring, the church made a wise, if sad, decision: They would not try to find a new Marlys. Oh, they could have strong-armed a Monica or a Michelle to volunteer to be Marlys, but they would have taken the job out of guilt and obligation.
Monica or Michelle would be so busy driving the minivan to swimming lessons all summer that the thought of spending what little spare time they had to pick dead blooms off flowers at the church would become unbearable.
It just wouldn't have gotten done.
So, the church decided to discontinue the flowers. "Nobody has the time," was probably the given reason.
The real reason is that when you lose a caretaker like a Marlys, you can't replace them.
Research has shown that 42.7 percent of the flower caretakers at area churches are named Marlys. In second place is the name Phyllis with 24.2 percent.
But the Marlys's and Phyllis's are getting up there in years and the Monicas and Michelles of the next generation are just too busy. They aren't yet in touch with their inner Marlys.
Same goes for Duane, the guy who always took care of the cemetery even though few people realized it.
When Duane came down with Parkinson's, a full-scale crisis broke out at the church as they sought a replacement who would do the job for the $35 per month Duane received. Nobody volunteered, so they brought in one of these new fangled lawn services that hires kids in their teens to run the trimmers and the mowers.
About five of them show up Tuesday at sunset and roar around for a while and then leave. The grass is long again by Sunday, but that is never a consideration.
Those kids aren't Duane. They run over the flowers and kill the shrubs with the weed trimmer and don't even show up until the grass is good and long.
And when that bill comes in the fall! Hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for a job Duane used to do for next to nothing.
"This is just crazy," the cemetery committee frets, vowing to find a new lawn service that will do the job for less. I mean, we are a church, after all! Doesn't that count for something?
However, unlike Marlys' flower bed, you can't just discontinue mowing the cemetery when Duane gives out.
So you hope for somebody to leave some money for mowing and "upkeep."
But those professional upkeepers aren't the real thing. They aren't caretakers, like Duane and Marlys.
The point of all of this is not to get depressed over the ever-decreasing numbers of Duanes and Marlys's. Caretakers come and caretakers go. In time, others may come forward and, as unlikely as it sounds, you might have a Jeremy or a Jerod who takes care of the furnace for the next thirty years. Who knows, maybe Chelsea will start bringing flowers when her tattoos start to fade.
No, the point is to be thankful for the caretakers while they are still doing their caretaking. Offer to help them. Get your kids to help them.
Maybe one of the helpers will take an interest. Maybe one of them will understand the quiet satisfaction Marlys and Duane got from taking care of things with no fanfare for twenty-five years.
Marlys and Duane probably knew what would happen when they were gone.
"Marlys always just took care of it," they'll say at the committee meeting.
"What are we going to do now?"
Blessed are the caretakers, for we know not what they do until they're gone.