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.
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