‘As You Sow, So Shall You Reap’ …

I’d like to introduce you to our neighbor, Dinah, who I mentioned in my article entitled ‘Come By For Coffee’ a few months ago. A lifelong resident of the village, she has lived in the house next door to ours for decades. She’s a simple soul who never married, and in fact the mere thought of taking up romantic residence seems to be quite beyond her imagination.

Dinah used to bustle about all day long from one elderly lady to another, doing their shopping and often a bit of cleaning as well, gathering up news as she went and keeping everyone up to date on village gossip. If we crossed paths on our shared walkway she would whisper a tiny hello, giving me a timid glance on her way past. Knowing her as I do now, she must have been bursting with curiosity about my sudden appearance next door, but was too shy to ask!


Because she is such an innocent in the world, my husband and I could not resist making up outrageous stories about her to each other. I would see her leave her house each evening punctually at 6:30pm and I’d report to Sem that she was going out to meet her bookie. Sem would come up with a more sinister errand that she must be on, weaving a sordid tale that would leave us both laughing. We created quite an exciting life for solid, mousy Dinah, who remained completely unaware of our nonsense. In reality her 6:30 “trysts” were to go to Margaret’s house to put her hair in curlers for the night. (“Margaret is awfy vain about her hair,” she once said to me in a moment of disparaging candor.) The truth of it is, there’s not a disreputable bone in Dinah’s body.

After I’d been here for about six months we noticed that Dinah seemed to have disappeared, and after asking around we learned that she had been diagnosed with asbestosis. In readiness for her return after months in the hospital, oxygen was installed in her house, and eventually a thin and wrinkled Dinah-shadow was brought home, frail and breathless, with a bone-rattling cough. At the time she was barely in her sixties, but she looked easily 20 years older, and seemed not long for this world.


But Dinah was made of stronger stuff, and she rallied. We were pleased and surprised to see her progress as she regained some much-needed weight and energy. When the good weather arrived I often saw her sitting out in her back garden in the “wee hoosie” she’d had built, her long oxygen line snaking back into the house as she took in the warmth, light and fresh air.

That was when I finally got to know Dinah better, and a few other ladies, too. You see, all of those years of caring for others had come back in Dinah’s favor, and everyone who could visit, did, in pairs or trios appearing daily for a chat. I’ve never seen anything like it – I can say, hand on heart, that in the almost-seven years since she became housebound, not a day has gone by without someone coming to see her. If ever there was an example of “you reap what you sow,” Dinah is it. Cousins, aunties, friends, you name it – someone is always dropping by for “a cuppie tea” with her. She doesn’t have to gather village news anymore – the news comes to her – and if I want to know what’s happening I need go no further than next door. Dinah knows all. It is remarkable.


An old-fashioned word for the Dinahs of this world is a “spinster”. While the word merely means an elderly unmarried woman, Dinah is the picture of the stereotypical spinster as well. She is grim-lipped with disapproval about many things: reading books (she prefers magazines, and you should, too!), teenagers kissing outdoors, the housekeeping tendencies of the lady who formerly lived in our house (“She wasnae much of a housekeeper,” Dinah said wryly to Sem when he moved in), cooking competitions “where people are horrid to each other,” and Gaelic. I don’t know how a language can be the focus of dislike, but I once asked her if she spoke Gaelic and she emphatically said, narrow-eyed and sniffing dismissively, “I don’t! Like! ‘The Gaelic’!” She is afraid of water, the dark, and anyone knocking on the door after sundown. But there is humor in her, and kindness, too.


Normally Dinah considers me to be passable company until someone better comes along – I say that with affection, but it’s true. I know where I rank in the pecking order of acceptable visitors, and I am often politely but handily dispatched when someone else more interesting appears for tea and gossip. I find myself being deftly maneuvered out of the house while being told in all sincerity, “Come by any time,” as the door is firmly shut behind me. Oh, Dinah!

One particular day, though, I was warmly invited in even though Mary (an exceptionally religious friend of hers) was already there. So it was that I took part in one of the strangest conversations I’ve ever had in my life. The discussion had turned to gay marriage, I believe because they were ruling on it in Scotland at the time. Mary, of course, was strongly and vocally against it. Words like… well, I don’t need to tell you the words. Unpleasant declarations delicately expressed in that way that people have where they make hideous statements and then look around the room expecting people to nod in approval. While I did not want to start an argument I said, with a hint of steel in my voice, “We love who we love, and if two consenting adults love each other, who are we to say anything against it, whatever their gender?”

Mary spluttered a bit but I’d said it with a smile, albeit one below eyes hard with anger. She was left without much to say in rebuttal, and then Dinah chimed in, which is where the fun began. This woman, whose living room is decorated with bespectacled teddy bears in pinafores, knitting tiny teddy bear sweaters, this prim and fastidious maiden lady who is down on hand-holding, loud laughter, and kids having fun, shocked the socks off me by saying, speculatively, “Well I don’t know… I canna really see why two men would be together, but…” (I held my breath, wondering ‘what next!?’) “…I CAN imagine two women together much more easily. I think that would be all right.”

I was tickled to bits, folks. I smiled widely and said, “Women are beautiful, aren’t they?” Dinah agreed, and Mary nearly fainted. But the little conversation-bombs were not finished raining down yet! Dinah considered things for a moment and then she said with utmost certainty, “Other than a man who came to the village once years ago, I don’t know any gay people at all!” That, friends, was Dinah’s innocence flooding right back to the fore, because one of her relatives is wonderfully and unmistakeably gay. I love him loads; he is one of my favorite people on the planet. But Dinah would never imagine in a million years that he is homosexual, and her confident declaration was nearly the undoing of me, as the giggles fizzed inside, seeking release. Mary, on the other hand, suddenly decided she had to be somewhere else. I’d like to hope we opened her mind up to a bit of tolerance that day, but probably not.


For the last few years Dinah has presided over her household like a maiden queen, bossing her brother around during his multiple daily visits, directing his gardening efforts with exasperation and sighing with resignation when he doesn’t do things just how she wanted them. They squabble like any other siblings but he is always there for her, maintaining her oxygen generator, hanging up her laundry, and turning her back garden into a flowerpot-filled explosion of color. So life has gone on, each day bringing visitors who come by and are offered “a drappie tea” and something sweet.


Sadly, over the last year or so Dinah has started to decline again. Her appetite diminished and her world-view, always narrow, has become focused ever-inward. We’ve occasionally gotten phone calls asking us to go check in on her, or she has phoned us herself if she is in distress. Last time she called, upset and panicking, she and I talked about whether she should go to the hospital where she wouldn’t have to be alone, as she is so afraid to be on her own. She was in a shocking state, all skin and bones clothed in fear, and I sat with her until her recently-arranged home help came to take over. “I have no interest in anything anymore,” she said that day. “I wait all night for the morning light to come back. Oh I hope that I can make it to springtime, and get better. Maybe I will.” Her hand fluttered over her heart distractedly and I tried to help her to calm her breathing. I thought it might be the last time I saw our Dinah, yet she rallied a little once again; later that same day I stopped by and she had three visitors, all cheering her up and sharing a pot of tea and gossip. Even so, I was not altogether surprised when a few days later I saw the ambulance in front of her house.

I ran out to see if they needed me to move our car away from the gate but the EMTs had already carefully loaded Dinah into the ambulance. Her brother was there, speechless with worry and grief, while her cousin stood stoically by, hiding her tears and giving a cheerful and robust wave as they shut the back doors, saying, “We’ll be along to see you shortly, Dinah, you just rest now and don’t worry!” The ambulance pulled away and her cousin turned to me and said,“She won’t be coming back.” Dinah’s brother just covered his face in his hands and wept, pushing past us into the house.

As I write this, two weeks later, Dinah is still in the hospital, and they are talking about moving her to a care home. Our shared walkway is quiet, with no visitors wandering in and out, and while I didn’t see Dinah every day, I miss her already. We will go to see her next week, if she is up to it.


It’s a very sad note on which to end this story, but what I take most of all from Dinah’s life so far is the kindness, goodness and steadfastness of Highlanders. In a lot of places, someone like Dinah would have been completely overlooked, lost in the whirl and chaos of daily life. But people have long memories, here. When she was healthy our prim, disapproving, opinionated spinster neighbor was hardly ever home, so busy was she, helping others every day of the week. Unexpectedly and cruelly her life changed forever and she found herself to be the one in need, and Highland folk have answered the call, for years on end.

There’s something to be learned from that. If we do it right, maybe we do reap what we sow. Perhaps one day I will find myself alone and in need, and whether or not there will be anyone steadfast in friendship with me remains to be seen. It is very much up to me, and how I behave towards those around me. Dinah’s example, in caring for others when they couldn’t do it themselves, is one that I will not forget.

Wouldn’t the world be an amazing place if we all looked out for each other simply because it was the right thing to do?


Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on anewscafe.com. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

40 Responses

  1. R.Segelitz says:

    Deborah I think this is your best story so far.

  2. What a beautiful piece to wake up to – thank you.

  3. Cathy says:

    Like your story, your photographs were rich and beautiful. Thank you for sharing such a heart warming tale of kindness.

  4. Matthew Grigsby says:

    This is some beautifully fine writing, and exceptionally poignant.  I wish I could meet your Dinah, she sounds like quite the card, and I think her eccentricities make me want to know her even more.  Your affection for her shines brightly, and it’s shining all the way across the world to Northern California, and it’s a shame Dinah won’t ever know that there’s an entire community of people who she never met who care and who wish her every happy and healthy moment she can muster.  Thanks for sharing your world again Deb

    • Deb says:

      Thank you so much, Matt, how lovely!  I wish you could meet our Dinah, too.   She would be bemused by it all, but pleased, I think.  I’m glad you enjoyed the article! xx

  5. Ginny says:

    How wonderfully you told the story of Dinah.

    Yes, how much better the World would be, if we were all a Dinah in her youthful years, and have our good returned to us, if and when we needed it.

    Your photos, as usual, are beautiful.




    • Deb says:

      Thank you kindly, Ginny!  I’m glad you enjoyed it, and the photos.  I suppose if each person tries to do their best in their own bit of the world, it at least makes a difference right there.  I know I don’t always get it right but I keep on trying! 🙂

  6. A. Jacoby says:

    Not only a beautiful story, beautifully executed but even more important, a beautiful life lesson.  And yes, the pictures are beautifully fitting for this piece. Thank you, again, for sharing.

  7. J.Mitchell says:

    I especially loved this one.  You brought me to tears and also made me smile .   There is a lot to think about and I thank you for sharing this!  🙂

  8. Anne Gibbons (a Glesca lass) says:

    Thank you, Deb. You reinforce the value of  “it takes a village…” all the way through the life cycle in this beautiful, descriptive piece.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Anne!  I think over the weeks it has been brought home to us especially, with how lonely our little shared walkway has been.  A few people in the village have even said to me, “Must be quiet round your way these days…”  Her presence, and that of her many visitors, is – and will continue to be – missed.  I’m glad you enjoyed the piece!

  9. Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

    Oh, Deb. What a way to start a Monday; with a good cry. What a beautiful tribute to not just Dinah, but the ageless, practical Aesop moral that reminds us: An act of kindness is a good investment.

    You have the gift for extracting extraordinary stories from ordinary people and events. Thank you for sharing. I’m so glad you’re here.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Doni, I’m glad you enjoyed Dinah’s story!  I’m also glad you continue to allow me to share these stories here at ANC.  There’s something extraordinary in each person, I think.  It’s just there, waiting to be discovered.

  10. Erika says:

    I’m all sniffly now.  What a lovely tribute to a gentle soul and a gentle way of life.  Yes, it would be better if we could all care for and about each other.  I am happy to say that most of the people I know do try to live that way.

    Excuse me, I have to find a tissue.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you!  I’m glad you enjoyed the article.  It’s good to hear that most of the people you know try to live that way, too…  Sorry about the sniffles!

  11. Eleanor says:

    Hi Deb

    Beautiful pictures.    They bring back big memories for me.   Even if not exact places I have been/lived, they capture the essence of Scotland.

    And an especially beautiful story, too.   You sure know how to paint a picture in words!

    Best wishes, Eleanor

  12. Jeff says:

    Hi Tante Deb,

    I actually read this one all the way to the end!  You’re shocked, right?  🙂

  13. Jorgi B says:

    Deb, this is a beautiful story beautifully told. My brother suffered from asbestosis, so this story hit home. He also had people who rallied ’round, but not to the extent of your wee townspeople. I flew to Oregon and Washington many times, but wish I could have done more. Bless your little Dinah. She sounds like quite the character, though innocent, of course.

    • Deb says:

      I am sorry that your brother suffered from asbestosis as well, Jorgi.  I know how hard it is to be far away from family, especially at times of illness, so I’m glad you could spend some time with him.

  14. Jon Lewis says:

    Another splendid job. Thank you for sharing your abundant talent!

  15. Joanne Lobeski-Snyder says:

    I’ve read this beautifully written piece a couple of times and I think people were coming to visit because they couldn’t  stay away from her!

    There was a “Avon saleswoman” gossiper in the small community where I grew up, but she had a streak of mean in her delivery of the news that at times caused harm and discord in families. She would make , as you wrote ” Unpleasant declarations delicately expressed in that way that people have where they make hideous statements and then look around the room expecting people to nod in approval. 

    I’m imagining that  Dinah was a trusted caregiver in the community.  People trusted her with information about their age-related and family issues.  I imagine that she had a compassionate filter for the town news that she shared with other people.  People enjoyed being around her.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she had gone to a “big city” as a young woman and returned home after having her heart broken by some cad….English of course.

    What a wonderful tribute to Dinah.  Thank you Deb for this wonderful piece.

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Joanne!  I’m glad you enjoyed Dinah’s story.  We have quite a few people like your “Avon saleswoman” gossiper to be sure, but Dinah is not mean-spirited like that.  Mind you, she does enjoy reporting a scandal worthy of lowering one’s voice and glancing out the window 🙂 but there is no malice in her delivery.   As my favorite Aunt would say, “I’m not nosy, I just want to know!”  Dinah’s like that, but with an added enjoyment of re-telling.  I have to say that once or twice she has repeated a rumor and gotten it completely wrong, and when I’ve told her the truth of it she has set the story straight with her friends.

      Dinah was a caregiver for quite some time, for various people.  She knows everyone and all their families, so she can natter away quite happily about everyone’s lineage, and people here seem to love to do that.  I think she was the star of the old-lady set, in her time.  Well, up until quite recently, she still was!

      I’m afraid I have to disappoint, in that there is no “big city” story to Dinah – she was born about six houses away from where she lives now, and while I suppose she has gotten as far as Inverness, I don’t believe she has gotten much farther than that.  Maybe Edinburgh, where one of the ubiquitous aunties live, but not much farther.  She seems content with that – other places are for other people, in her book.  Was her heart ever broken?  Perhaps… but the deeper part of Dinah’s story is that she had a mother about whom she says little, and a father who never gets mentioned at all.  From what I’ve heard she and her brother were orphaned at the ages of 16 and 14.  I get the sense that it’s been those two against the world for a very long time, as she would have taken responsibility for him at quite a young age.  Not long after that she became her grandfather’s caregiver, something that I think was not always an easy task.  Dinah’s whole life has been about other people… so I’m glad that when it came right down to it, other people made it their business to fit her life into theirs when she needed them.

  16. Sally says:

    Reading this lovely story brings to the front of our minds how we wish more individuals were like Dinah – just wanting to help and make the world a better place.  So glad to read something as beautiful and as profound as this.  Thank you very much!!

    • Deb says:

      Thank you, Sally!  It is really lovely to know that Dinah’s story has been appreciated in the re-telling.  To the outside world Dinah is just one among thousands, but in reality, she’s one in a million.

  17. acelightning says:

    Even if she was opinionated, prim, and narrow-minded, her heart seems to have been in the right place. And, especially in a remote small town, her innate kindness comes back to her when it’s necessary. I hope they *do* put her into an extended-care facility – one where she’ll get actual CARE, not just a more comfortable place to wait for death. I know how many responsibilities you have, but if you get a chance, do drop in on her. And tell her that an old woman she’s never heard of in the US sends good wishes to her…


    • Deb says:

      I’m not sure there will be much time to put her into a care facility, but the hospital she is in right now is a small, local one.  They are good, caring people, and they will look after her quite well.  I asked her cousin about visiting her last week (after this article was written) and was told it’s family-only, as visitors are becoming too much for her.  I send along our greetings with her various family members when I see them, and I know they will get passed along.

  18. Kat says:

    Well written story about your Dinah. She is a lovely, caring woman and I’m glad the village repaid her kindness and caring. Thank you for sharing your story and your lovely photos.

  19. Mary Adamson says:

    What a wonderful story!  The title says it all. You do reap what you sow.  Although  she may be pointed, she’s been a good friend and it’s obvious her friends and family appreciate and love her. We should all be so fortunate.

  20. Sharon says:

    Well, I did that backwards, having read the latest article and then jumping to this one but even though the link was *right there*, I had to keep reading that last article to the very end. Silly me. It doesn’t matter because it all coalesced into one fine piece of writing, Deb. I thoroughly enjoyed it as my coffee went cold, forgotten by my bedside. Thank you for the lovely read, my dear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *