Monday, October 25, 2010

A Note from an Old Neighbor

I loved the old house the moment I saw it. There was an elegance to it. It had, as the realtor reminded me, "good bones," despite the old-fashioned kitchen and bathrooms that we had no money to update. But it had seven bedrooms, a Palladium window on the landing of a staircase that would have enchanted Scarlet O'Hara, and a back stairway from the attic down to the kitchen (for the maids who undoubtedly lived in the attic when the house was first built). It was way too big for our family of three, soon to be four, but I loved it.

It wasn't until we had moved in, however, that I learned what I really loved about this old house – the neighbors that came with it. Right next door was a sweet retired couple, Jean and Raymond. He had been the librarian of the Divinity School, and in a cruel twist of fate, had developed macular degeneration. By the time we knew them, he could no longer read. But his wife, a kind, gentle lady who did beautiful cross-stitchery, could. I can still hear her reading to him as they sat on their enclosed screen porch, throughout the spring and summer months. When I had the baby I was carrying when we first moved in, she made totally impractical, but absolutely gorgeous cross-stitched bibs. I still have them. And for the "big brother," she made a tin of chocolate chip cookies on which she had written, "Charlie's Cookies." I still have that too.

Next to them lived another lovely couple, Kathleen and Achille. He was the assistant superintendent of schools, while she taught hospitalized children. They had five kids of their own, but all were grown except the youngest son, who was a senior in high school. They were devout Catholics. She attended Mass every morning, but never failed to send me a Rosh Hashonah card, even after we moved out of state. Christmas in their own home was a wonderful mix of faith, traditions, and just plain fun. They collected crèches and every surface in the house, during the season, was covered with manger scenes, large and small. My favorite, and I think theirs too, was the one their son had made when he was a preschooler: the three kings were Fisher Price little people and the animals around the baby Jesus were from the Fisher Price barn set. Achille was a master baker and spent one afternoon teaching me the rudimentary basics of cake decorating. On the dining room table at Christmas would be a gingerbread sleigh that he had made, filled with home-made gingerbread men, women, and children. It was a family comfortable in and comforted by their faith.

We moved oh too soon, but kept in touch with annual cards that would bring each of us up-to-date on the families. Kathleen was the one who told me in her annual Rosh Hashonah card about the passing of Jean and Raymond. I learned of Kathleen's death when Achille sent me the annual card, saying he wanted to honor Kathleen's tradition of staying in touch. His card was late arriving last year, but when it did, I learned that he had cancer, had had seven operations that year, but still wanted to wish me and mine the very best. When the card didn't arrive this year, I feared that the tradition had ended. Today I learned that Achille had passed away in the spring.

I only knew these four remarkable individuals for a few years, but they left a lasting impression on me. They taught me about grace in the face of adversity; of generous spirits and genuine kindness. And I know that my life has been richer because I was blessed to have known them all. Rest in peace – and thank you.

Marian

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8 comments:

  1. What amazing neighbors, and such a touching story. Where was the house and why did you move from it? It sounds like a wonderful place to have lived.

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  2. Thanks Misa. They really were lovely neighbors -- taught me by example. We moved because my husband got a job out-of-state.

    We've owned five homes over the years and I asked my husband this weekend which was his favorite -- and he agrees that house was the best.

    It's just nice to think about those wonderful days and those extraordinary people.

    Marian

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  3. You had a wonderful neighbor - very few of us are that lucky.

    Rhonda
    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

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  4. Marian: What a beautiful post! Thank you for sharing such warm memories. Maggie

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  5. Marian, we lived in a lot of neat old houses when I was growing up, so I can just picture yours and why you loved it! But, you're right, it's the neighbors around you who really make you feel at home. What lovely, lovely people! And such a nice tribute to them. Thanks for starting out my week on such a sweet, thoughtful note! :-)

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  6. Thanks everyone. I really wanted to capture the generosity and kindness of these people. Glad you feel like you know them.

    Marian

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  7. I am sitting here reading your loving words with tears in my eyes. What a beautiful tribute to your neighbors and it opens our eyes to the people around us and how they enrich us!
    Ritaestelle

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  8. Many thanks Ritaestelle. You're right that there are many lovely people in this world -- and we are blessed to know them.

    Marian

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