When we first moved to the island our next door neighbor was probably close to ninety years old. She loved us because we sat out on our deck in the evenings with a glass of wine just as she did. We were kindred spirits, she would say. As that first summer in our little beach house fell into place, we were introduced to each of her eight children as they came to visit her and her husband on those glorious sunny days.
Standing in the corner of her deck, so as to get as close as she could, Veronica would holler, “Mary Ann? Are you there?” I would step out of my little cabin and greet her. Then she would tell me, “I want you to meet Ronnie. She will be here in an hour.”
“Okay,” I’d say. “Just holler when she gets here.” This is how I came to know her four daughters. Sometimes she would forget that we’d met and she would call me up from the beach or out of my cabin to meet one of them or one of her many grand-daughters, for a second or even a third time.
Veronica didn’t live more than two years past the summer we bought our place yet when she died I felt as though I had known her half my life and I missed her terribly.
I believe it was because of how easily she showed her love. She was a woman who wore her frail old heart on a worn out sleeve and although she loved her daughters best, she also loved me. It is so easy to love back when you know you are cherished.
Veronica was right; we were kindred souls. She had a reputation on the beach as being fun loving and adventurous. When she was younger, she and several other ladies swam every day, all summer long, in the frigid waters of Puget Sound. They spent their sunny days watching their children run wild and free on the saltwater beaches. They set crab pots, and dug clams, and at night they built beach fires to gather around with marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars, and a gaggle of children.
Island life was a shared experience, rich with friendships and fun. Dogs were not on leashes, children were allowed to scream and yell to their hearts content, and no one cared about weeds in the yard. In it’s simplicity, Veronica’s life was enviable.
I imagine it would have been a privilege to be part of her gang. In the eight years we’ve been here, I’ve yet to hear all the stories, new ones being shared at every gathering, wonderful story’s that make me envy not just the life they led, but the closeness they shared: the way they kept an eye out on each other’s kids as well as on each other. If there were a need to step in, step in is what they did. These days, we reach out via technology and with great hesitation. I’ve yet to decide if it’s because we are hesitant to commit to anything or if we are afraid we’ll find out our help isn’t wanted or appreciated.
Yet, the most unusual and touching thing happened a while back and I’ll never forget it. I answered the phone one day with a terrible head cold, cough, laryngitis, aches and pains. The person on the other end was a neighbor I barely knew. I struggled to croak out a response to whatever it was she needed to know, then hung up the phone and crawled back under the covers.
The next day, this same neighbor, Diane, called to make sure I was home as she was planning to stop by. I started to protest, but she insisted. Through the front door she came, carrying a huge container of home-made chicken and vegetable soup, fresh fruit cut up and ready to eat, and a desert. I don’t recall ever, in all of my fifty eight years, having anyone do that for me. I was so touched by her thoughtfulness I nearly cried and I was grateful for the healing powers of homemade chicken soup! I certainly didn’t have the energy to make it for myself.
As modern day friends, we readily advise, “Eat lots of chicken soup, now. Drink tea, get plenty of rest.” Yet, who actually cooks and cuts up chicken, dices a huge variety of vegetables, adds noodles, broth, and seasonings, and delivers it in person with real concern for another’s well being?
I have been blessed in many ways by this wonderful caring neighbor who has since become a dear friend. I hope everyone has a chance sometime in life to feel as cared for, and yes, as special as she made me feel that day.