Christmas has come early to New Hope Farm, the Loudoun County home where Louisa Lindsey has cared for the homeless and the elderly for more than three decades.
Lindsey, 70, and her adopted son, quadriplegic Donnie Lanham, 34, traveled to Nashville last weekend to fulfill Lanham's lifelong dream of seeing a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Scouts, church groups and others, meanwhile, have been refurbishing Lindsey's house and grounds since a September article in The Washington Post detailed her dedication to the needy.
About 30 foster children and 30 elderly residents have stayed on Lindsey's run-down farm for as little as a few weeks or as long as 15 years. She has accepted only token payment for what she calls her "life's career." Now, after decades of giving, it's her turn to receive.
The Nashville trip, financed in part through contributions from Washington area residents, whisked Lindsey and Lanham onto the stage of the country music shrine, where Lanham was kissed by Minnie Pearl and greeted by Porter Wagoner, Roy Acuff, Jimmy Dickens and many more of Lanham's heroes.
Lanham, whose body was withered by childhood disease, was not expected to reach his first birthday, and can move only a few facial muscles. Yet he was all smiles when he, Lindsey and friends Al and Sarah Dixon arrived at the Grand Ole Opry the day after Thanksgiving after a two-day journey in the Dixons' van with a holiday dinner at a truck stop.
"I said to Al, 'I can't believe we're really here,' " recalled Lanham this week. The concert hall looked "just like on TV . . . . I felt great."
Lanham remained on the edge of the stage through the show, watching performers and stagehands go through their motions. He was so thrilled that he asked if he could do it again the next night, and Opryland officials readily approved.
An autographed picture of Dickens is among the souvenirs Lanham brought back from Nashville, and he is already talking about how much he'd like to go there again someday. For now, he'll settle for weekly trips with Al Dixon to bluegrass performances at the Lucketts Community Center near New Hope Farm in northern Loudoun.
Lanham and Lindsey returned home this week to a farm that has been spruced up by scores of volunteers during recent weeks.
Some people moved by Lindsey's devotion to the needy and the elderly have sent her money to help her care for her boarders, whose number recently has increased from five to seven.
Others are giving of themselves. For example, several local Boy Scouts have promised to install plastic sheets to keep the snow out of her chicken house this winter, Lindsey said.
Church volunteers, many of them from the interdenominational Christian Fellowship Church near Vienna, have burned excess brush and scrap lumber, brought in freshly cut firewood and installed a new sink in Lindsey's house. They also have fixed fence gates and sliding doors.
According to church board member Tom Lippard, more than 100 members of the congregation plan to work in teams through the winter. "This thing has just caught on like fire," Lippard said.
Some people have brought the precious commodity of friendship. Two young women drive more than an hour each to pay Lanham regular visits. He relishes the chats and expresses worry that they won't come back.
Lindsey says she is amazed at the attention and support she's received from strangers recently. She's always had local people such as the Dixons lending a hand to her and Lanham, she says, but she finds it hard to keep track of all the new help she is getting and to maintain the order she would like.
Still, "I call it good," she said. For all the improvements, the home still bears the unique imprint of her way of life: simple but comfortable furnishings.
"As long as I'm here," she said, "I won't never change."