LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Living With Mrs. Sparrow

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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Mrs. Sparrow seemed ancient to this wet-behind-the-ears college student.

Larry Penkava

After all, she was a white-haired widow woman living in a rambling, two-story house just beyond the campus. Her furnishings were reminiscent of an earlier time, perhaps the Roaring ‘20s. That, in itself, seemed a long time ago to a modern young man of the Soaring ‘60s.

Mrs. Sparrow had kind words for her late husband and was proud of the son who was editor of the Fayetteville daily newspaper. Her other son, a grown man, lived in her home, wracked by a disease that left him crippled and unable to vocalize, other than occasional grunts and moans. Still, he lay every day sprawled on the sofa with a thick book clutched in his hands.

My introduction to Mrs. Sparrow came after I went into the Housing Office to pay my dorm rent for the fall semester. I was growing short on funds and must have mentioned the fact to the lady who was assisting me.

“I know of a woman who is looking for a student to live in her house,” she told me. “She won’t charge rent, just wants somebody there at night for security.”

I took down her name and address. It was a long walk down the road leading south of campus, finally turning onto a residential street to the left.

The first house had a mailbox with “Sparrow” marking the spot. I walked up to the brick structure and knocked on the door.

I could hear the locks turning before the door creaked open a crack. A wrinkled face looked out and I said I was interested in the room.

She opened the door and stepped aside for me to enter. The living room was spread out before me and son No. 2 on the left, lying on the couch gripping his book. A stairway to the second floor was to the right.

Mrs. Sparrow introduced herself, thanking me for my interest and leading me up the stairs to what would be my home for four months. The bedroom was adequately furnished with a full bed, nightstand and dresser. Just down the hall was my own bathroom, with white tile that reminded me of an earlier time. The footed bathtub was a nice touch.
After looking over the accommodations, I told Mrs. Sparrow that I would be happy to live there during the term. She gave me a few rules and handed me keys to the front door.

During my first three years of college I had lived in a dorm fairly close to most of the classroom buildings. Living at Mrs. Sparrow’s home, my walk was considerably longer. I learned that before leaving in the mornings I should take everything I would need for the day.

Loaded down with notebooks and scholarly tomes, I left Mrs. Sparrow’s house in the morning and headed up a long hill to the edge of campus. I was glad the gym had all the athletic gear I needed for the pickup games I was addicted to.

After class, and workouts at the gym, I often went with a classmate to eat supper. He had a car and would let me out at Mrs. Sparrow’s house after our repast.

One evening Mrs. Sparrow met me as I came in and offered me a plate of coconut cake, probably freshly baked. I wolfed it down like, well, a college student with a bottomless pit for a stomach.

There were evenings when I attended meetings and other events. That meant coming in late, trying to keep quiet as I closed and locked the door and tiptoed up the stairs.

When the fall semester ended, Mrs. Sparrow took me aside for an announcement.

“I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to leave after the semester,” she said. “It’s because you come in so late some nights and it worries me.”

I apologized for my late hours while thanking Mrs. Sparrow for being so kind to me. After I walked out the door the last time, I never saw her again.

It was at my college class’s 50-year reunion that I met a couple of guys I hadn’t known during our student days. Somehow or another the subject of Mrs. Sparrow came up. I think they were talking about living at her rental house next door.

“I stayed in her home,” I told them.

“What? You roomed in the two-story house? No way!”

“It’s true,” I said, describing her invalid son lying on the sofa with his ever-present book.

“You were lucky,” they said.

“Naw, she wound up kicking me out. But Mrs. Sparrow was always so polite.”

“That she was. That she was.”

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189,