An incomprehensible but potent tip came swiftly from my Mother after we delivered her tipsy neighbor back home.“Good fences make good neighbors,” she whispered. Much later I discovered the poetic origins of the advice; Robert Frost penned the sage counsel. I waited for discernment.
The revelation floated in just last night disguised as a perfect 70 degree evening. I felt it in my bones because when the air is light, I’m drawn to the patio or front porch for a deep breath of beauty. It’s an intake to the backbone that I expect to share with a host of souls.
My next door neighbor and I never discussed such things, but I know she often patrolled the perimeter of her house as I do mine. I also know that we shared a zany love of life and some inexplicable fears that sneak out sideways.
We had just settled-in back home after her funeral. She lived next door to us in the white brick house for 35 years. I counted on her in the realm of what is taken for granted: underpinnings that allow the deep sense that all is well – clean water, electricity…. a rock solid someone next door who you know, but don’t know well enough to begin the critical litany that arrives with familiarity.
When we moved into our house, she was the gracious lady from my childhood who flitted around the country club pool. She was known to erupt in life-giving laughter. Ever-changing wigs and bathing suits were her signature.
After she was gone, her daughter and I dared to discuss the truth of a wardrobe of wigs – a meticulous testimony to an early loss of hair. This must have alarmed her vanity being the Princess of Swimming as a young beauty at college, but she wore it well enough always colorfully dressed and carefully groomed.
What a revelation to discover that she had been the Chief Medical Technologist at our regional hospital since 1958, a leader in the field for Tennessee and a trainer of young technologists. Her early days were made up of a work family who enjoyed each other so much that they met after church to eat in the hospital cafeteria.
Through the decades, pieces of our lives came together, the zig zag of information that endeared our families not across a fence, but over the crooked brick edging along her driveway. She once asked me what color to paint the bricks. I said certainly not white maybe the color of grass to aid in its disappearance. This elicited the only frown I ever saw on her.
At some point in the late afternoon we became synchronistic in mailbox retrieval. She was always ready with a compliment and pleasant questions about our children. We appreciated the music that floated from her deck to our patio. The noise of our garage door opening and closing was comical to her.
We witnessed the death of her family dog, her husband Butch, her daughter Bettie Lynn. She saw me walk the street in grief after my mother’s death and attended my uncertainty when our girls left home and my father began to have health challenges.
We were enlivened by a long term boyfriend or two that she took and her steadfast trips to the beach.
Somewhere along the way she asked us to cut a juicy tree which hovered over the exacting path from her car to her backdoor. Could we help her out – purple stains clung to her shoes as she entered the bright Florida room that welcomed regular callers.
We took a moment at her casket and considered her tropical colored suit and sporty wig. Tears sprang when the funeral home sound system piped in Moon River by Andy Williams. The Baptist minister suggested that we think of her dash – the line between birth and death.
People smiled. Instantly I thought of her good humor and robust way of exchange; how she became Ms Santa Claus each year for the hospital sashaying over as a surprise for Quinn’s early December birthday.
The night air made me light headed or was it the intake of her vacant house bright and newly fluffed from her daughters who after a bedside vigil sprang into action and cleaned and weeded and planted electric-colored flowers about the perimeter.
Regrets roll in. We never really had that heart to heart, but as I began to walk toward the place where we often recited our stories, I realized that what we had was enough to span the gorgeous journey from the flamboyancy of youth to the timidity of old age.