Bluffton Packet

A stranger at my door

This painting by Sharleen Bennett captures the simplicity of the photo taken by Jean Tanner that ran in The Bluffton Packet recently.
This painting by Sharleen Bennett captures the simplicity of the photo taken by Jean Tanner that ran in The Bluffton Packet recently.

On Sept. 1, the first Sunday of the month, I was visited by, as I thought then, an “angel unaware.”

An attractive lady dressed in “church-going-attire” tapped at my back door and when invited in handed me a lovely Hallmark gift bag that she insisted I open then and there.

The note enclosed with the gift read: “Mrs. Tanner, the photo of your husband so touched my heart and I’m sure yours that I wanted to do this small painting for you. Regards, Sharleen Bennett.”

The photo was in the paper in late July following the passing of my husband, Harry B. Tanner Sr.

The following “thank you” email sent to my “angel” the next day explains what transpired:


“Your visit yesterday TOTALLY took me by surprise. I had just gotten home from church and was on the speaker phone getting the latest ‘stats’ on hurricane Dorian from son, Sheriff P.J. Tanner, when your tap came at my back door. When you came in, you acted as if you knew me, so forgive me if I seemed taken aback, but I did NOT know you.

“To explain, over the last six months I had really missed a whole lot of Sunday-morning church services at Maye River Baptist because of my husband’s illness, so I thought you were a ‘new’ church member, since Maye River has quite a few new members I am unfamiliar with.

“However, your visit and your gift of a personalized painting of Harry and Muffy on the dock fishing is ABSOLUTELY the nicest and most unexpected thing that has ever happened to me. I’m still a little astounded! My family members are amazed, as I am, of your talent, as how you captured the very essence of the feeling portrayed in that photo. Thank you very much. It has a prominent place on the top of my TV cabinet.

“I would like to apologize for the disarray of the entrance to my back door (that family and friends use), and my kitchen, as I had already started moving ‘stuff’ around in preparation for Dorian. I would like to do an article on this happening and title it ‘A Stranger at my Door.’ It will be based on your kindness and the fact that your visit was to me like an ‘angel visiting unaware’ and your unique painting talent.”

Her reply read:

“Mrs. Tanner, I would be honored to have you write of my visit to you. We — my husband, Dale, and I — are members of Bluffton Methodist Church, and therefore are friends with your cousin Pat Simmons. My husband and I moved here from Maryland four years ago. I have been painting since my teen years, everything from oils, pastels, to watercolors (which is my favorite medium). We live in The Haven at New Riverside and I teach watercolor classes.

“As I said in my note to you, the photo in the paper just touched my heart for some reason and I knew that I wanted to paint it and give it to you. Perhaps it just sums up life here in the Lowcountry, a man and his dog in perfect harmony on a beautiful day at the river.”

The King James version of Hebrew 13:2 reads: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

And the New International Version (NIV) reads: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Showing hospitality was an important expression of Christian love in New Testament times and also connected with Old Testament times in Genesis 18:2, when Abraham welcomed angels appearing at his door inside. Abraham was considered the premier model of hospitality, which is to say, as Christians we are to cultivate an “open home” policy in regard to other people. Christian charity is illustrated in our hospitality toward strangers.

“Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss” is a book written by Dale Evans Rogers, entertainer and wife of Roy Rogers, concerning their daughter Robin. She was born with Down syndrome and they were advised to “put her away,” but they ignored such talk and Robin graced their home for two and a half years.

Though her life was short, Robin changed her parents’ lives, and even made life better for other children born with special needs. This book changed the way America treated children with special needs and is the perfect gift for parents of special needs children, parents grieving the death of a child, or anyone whose life has been touched by a special child.

When sharing Sharleen Bennett’s visit and gift with a friend, the response was, “Precious and beautiful describes the person who did that for you.”

And I agree!

Jean Tanner may be reached at