“These are amateurish, just from the heart,” she said about her verses offering comfort. “People deserve a little lift.”
It began in 1999 with sister Madeline F. Sparrow, who sent about 70 cards each month to shut-ins, friends and church members through the Quiet Care Committee at her church, University United Methodist in Chapel Hill. The list includes friends for decades and people she hardly knows. It was hard not to duplicate cards, Sparrow said, so she turned to her sister.
Dodson began writing the verses, limericks really, that rhymed, about the seasons, holidays, God, her garden and even the squirrels in her yard. She sits inside by her kitchen window or on the large covered porch at her home in Chapel Hill and takes her inspiration from nature.
Dodson has a list of people to send the verses to as well as Sparrow's list. A third sister, Violet, included Dodson's verses in her 35 monthly card mailings, too, until her death last fall. Now, Sparrow and Dodson send between 185 and 200 cards every month, a new verse printed on patterned paper for the season.
That's a lot of stamps.
“I don't drink and I don't smoke, and that's my fun money,” Dodson said. “I pay for mine, and she for hers,” she said, sitting on her porch with Sparrow one afternoon last week. She emails some, too.
Some of the recipients are those who were in the Fuller Memorial Presbyterian Church youth group, which Dodson began working with in her 20s. She also worked with youth at New Hope Presbyterian Church, where she is a member now.
Dodson compiled her verses for several months and seasons from 2000 to 2012 into “Blessings and Hugs from the Sisters,” a book published by WestBow Press, the Christian self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson.
“It's just a project for me, not to make a dime off of,” Dodson said. “Now I'm dumb enough to try another one — a letter to my granddaughter about the road traveled. She says, 'Grandma, tell me this, tell me that. Write it down.'” So that's what Dodson is doing.
She grew up in Durham, one of five children — four sisters and a brother. Dodson graduated from Durham High School in 1941. She worked at Liggett & Myers cigarette factory in Durham for 38 years, starting off as an hourly employee and retiring as management.
“Women didn't make what men did in those days. It was a trying time, but a good place to work,” Dodson said. “That's the way it was. But now women and girls know better.”
Dodson and Sparrow live a few miles from each other in Chapel Hill. Dodson's first husband died, and she moved to Chapel Hill 45 years ago with her second. Sparrow married and came to Chapel Hill 66 years ago. Sparrow, who spent her career in retail, is 84 years old now.
When Dodson's second husband died in January 2012, she felt lost.
“He was my life. I was so depressed and down,” she said. People who received her writings had suggested she put them together in a book. “This was a focus for me.” Dodson said. Sparrow encouraged her.
Dodson keeps a binder full of her verses, with June 2013 already included, written about a visit to Wrightsville Beach.
In each letter is a coupon for a hug. It's about the size of a business card, with a photo of a flower on it and “Hug Coupon. Redeem When Needed.” She also includes those when she pays her bills.
“Isn't that silly? I know how it is to work in an office all day. It might bring a smile to their day,” Dodson said.
Each copy of “Blessings and Hugs from the Sisters” includes a hug coupon, too. Included in the book is her 2005 submission of “July Thoughts,” in which she writes about the heat and humidity's impact on the garden, revived when evening arrives.
The final lines are: “Our lives also have this kind of change: We go through drought, storms and rain. God, however, sees us through, Bringing comfort to me and you.”