Every couple of weeks, Nick Dyer drives to Widmer's Super Market in St. Paul to pick up groceries.

But they're not for him. They're for his friend, Barbara Matthews.

Trekking up the steep flight of steps outside Matthews' St. Paul home, bags in hand, Dyer is always greeted by the 90-year-old, grinning widely through her large front window.

For Matthews, having someone willing to help her with the little things means a lot. For Dyer, the relationship has offered an unexpected, and fascinating, history lesson.

Dyer first met Matthews last fall, after starting a volunteer service called Rosewater Service Corps to offer elderly St. Paul residents assistance with chores like raking, shoveling and shopping.

Dyer explained that the name comes from a Kurt Vonnegut novel, "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," whose main character was a man who sold everything he had to volunteer to be a firefighter.

Matthews' 91-year-old husband, Charles, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease four years ago. Not wanting to leave him, she is no longer able to make the hike to the grocery store. Just navigating the icy walkways out front has become more challenging with age.

So Dyer, who lives in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood, has been carrying sacks of groceries up to her doorstep for nearly four months.

Early on, Dyer noticed Matthews waving from her window after he dropped off her bags. She was still smiling and waving at him when he got to the bottom of the steps, and also when he got into his car.

"I kind of just drove away and I thought, I need to spend more time visiting with her because … I'm delivering more than groceries," he said. "It's companionship and conversation and being social with her community."

Because she doesn't want to risk getting sick, Matthews has stayed mostly under lockdown in her home, occasionally calling her nephew in Australia, sister in London and husband's family in Minnesota.

Intrigued by Matthews' British accent, Dyer — who studied history at the University of Minnesota — wanted to learn more about her life growing up in London during the 1930s.

He learned that, in 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Matthews lived through the bombing of her school and city by German pilots. Over the winter, she ran to a bomb shelter in her backyard in the dead of night. Often she spent hours with her family, shivering in their pajamas.

Despite the hardships, she remembers her father volunteering to walk around their neighborhood and check all the windows to make sure they were fully blacked out — a necessity to prevent Nazi pilots from zeroing in on their populous neighborhood.

Matthews said she still remembers the strong rubber smell of the gas masks she had to carry around with her everywhere as a child, and is surprised that so many people make a fuss about wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We're alive. At one time, we thought we wouldn't even make it [out] alive through the war," she said. "So maybe the war prepared me to kind of put up with these restrictions and not treat them as really too much of an inconvenience."

Dyer also sees parallels between then and now, as people step up to help each other in difficult times.

"When my kids or my grandkids ask me, 'What did you do through the great pandemic?' I want to tell them that everyone stepped up and helped each other out," he said. "That I lived up to that responsibility of community during a time that was hard for a lot of people."

Matthews said she can never express how grateful she is for the extra assistance from Dyer, who she noted has his own family to take care of.

"When [my husband and I] were younger, you really don't think about what you're going to do when you get old … you didn't need to rely on anybody else, you just did your own thing," she said.

"I realize now in these times of [the] pandemic, I think this often brings out the best in people."

Becca Most is a Twin Cities freelance writer.