Good Night Irene

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I were on our driveway cleaning up from the yard sale we had this weekend. We looked behind us and saw a familiar figure cutting through our backyard. He had his head down and was making hurried, deliberate steps our way.

From a distance he appeared to be the 93 year old neighbor man we have known for 8 years who lives on our block. As he approached though he was almost unrecognizable. His always slender frame was now reduced to skin and bones. His face had an ashen hue to it and his eyes, once bright and lively were now replaced with a lifeless stare.

Bill and his wife Irene have always been some of our favorite neighbors. Bill owns a big tractor snowplow and plows everyone’s sidewalks on the block. They grow a huge garden in their backyard and deposit bags of tomatoes on our doorstep. When we are out walking we always stop by to visit them if they are sitting on their porch. They dole out Dum-Dum lollipops to the kids and invite them to sit on the large porch swing. Then they love to regale us with stories about the “olden days” and we love to hear them. I have heard the story about how they met no less than 10 times. Bill used to date Irene’s younger sister but then Irene stole him away from her. Irene tells me her secrets about how they had the perfect marriage. Irene has taken my kids into the house on several occasions and played piano for them while Bill takes me to the back room to show me his WWII memorabilia. He was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Hawaii during that time. He has several medals and plenty of photo albums that he has proudly showed me. He always takes out a picture of Irene in a bathing suit from that time and whistles.

As Bill sauntered over to us yesterday I said, “Hi Bill, How the heck have you been doing? I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

He stopped and looked at me and said, “Well, you know Irene passed away last month.”

I didn’t know.

I quick grabbed him and gave him a hug and felt his jutting spine beneath my hand. I told him how sorry I was and how much we adored Irene. He just nodded his head. I asked him if his son was at the house with him but Bill said his son lives too far away and has only been able to make it up a few times to handle all of the paperwork.

Bill started to tear up then and he threw his arms up in the air and said, “I’m all alone now” in a jagged voice.

He abruptly started to walk away again and we asked him if there was anything we could do to help out. He just shook his head and muttered, “I’m just all alone now.”

My husband and I watched him walk away in his old straw hat, his jeans cinched at the waist and his flannel shirt draping on him. We were paralyzed and didn’t know what to say or do. I wanted to run to him and tell him just to sit down with us but inside I knew his pride would have denied him from doing that. I just stood there in sadness for a long time watching that 93 year old man walking down the street alone. The same street that I have watched both him and his wife walk down together many of times.

Later last night, I looked up her obituary online and discovered that Bill and Irene would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this coming Wednesday, May 1st. On Wednesday I will be paying Bill a visit with some chocolate chip cookies in hand. I hope he invites me in and I hope he pulls out those photo albums.

I hope he pulls out that picture of Irene in her bathing suit and gives a whistle.

Good night Irene, good night Irene. I’ll see you in my dreams.

Reading to the Ladies

The summer is coming to an end and school will start on Tuesday. Along with this will come an end to the daily “reading to the ladies.”

In our neighborhood there are two elderly ladies who have houses side by side. One of them is 89 and the other is 96. They are sisters. The 96 year old has lived here for 70 years. She was widowed in her 40’s and has lived alone since then. The 89 year old has never been married and spent her adult life living in Chicago until 20 years ago when her sister with whom she always lived with died and she came back to the area to be near family.

When we moved here 8 years ago both of the ladies were in fine shape. They mowed their own lawns, tended to their gardens and canned large amounts of vegetables. Through the years their health has deteriorated and we have had to wait patiently for them to return home several times from extended hospital stays. Today they both still live at home but have caretakers who live with them and tend to their care and the housework.

These are two of the sweetest ladies I know. They have watched our family grow and have become a part of our family. We visit with each other and help each other out. My kids think of them as extra grandmas.

This past March, when visiting with the 96 year old, she told me how lonely she had been. All she can do at this point is really just sit and watch television.

That’s when I got an idea. My 7 year old daughter, Iris, loves to read. Being in 1st grade at the time, she didn’t have any homework after school. My kids loved visiting the neighbors but didn’t go every day so I established “reading to the ladies.” Once the 89 year old got wind of the kids reading to her sister she wanted in on it too!

Iris and my 5 year old son, Bency would go to the ladies’ houses every day after school and read to them a few short stories, visit with them and then come home. This has continued throughout the summer almost every day. Iris enjoys doing this because she LOVES reading to people and the ladies enjoy the company of the kids. The caretaker for the 89 year old is a Polish immigrant, speaks broken English, loves to cook and loves my kids too. She is always making up homemade cookies for the kids and fresh popped popcorn on the stove to send home with them after they are done reading!

Once school starts, I’m sure there will be homework so they will only be able to go on the weekends. I’m going to try to keep this going as long as I can because the summer of “reading to the ladies” will always be a wonderful memory!

The Polish caretaker, the 89 year old, the 96 year old, and my husband Alex at one of my kid’s birthday parties

Rags to Riches

One of our next door neighbors is a sweet, eccentric 80 year old widowed lady. Her children and grandchildren are all grown and visit her on Sundays. The rest of the week she goes to rummage sales, senior dances and quilting fairs. She bakes bread in large quantities every two weeks. We are gifted one of these loaves along with three small loaves; one for each of my kids. I make grilled cheese sandwiches out of this amazing bread. The kid’s sandwiches are about the size of a 50 cent piece when I use their loaves.

Her house can best be described as somewhere between a museum and the next entry for the show Hoarders. There is so much to look at and see. Some rooms are so packed that there is only a slight path through them. She used to have a lot of cats poking their heads out from behind boxes and scurrying around. Now there is only one. I’m not sure where the rest went.

She has always been very good to the kids. She has made a quilt for each one when they were born. On our 7 year old Iris’s first birthday she gave her an old, child-size rocking chair that she covered in stickers and magazine cut outs and stenciled her name on it.

Every spring, my five year old son, Bency brings her bouquets of dandelions. No matter how many times he rings her doorbell and makes his delivery during the week, she always gives him a hug and acts surprised.

Every birthday and Christmas she has brought gifts over for the kids consisting of coloring books, farm animal sets, mittens, and sand toys. This past Christmas, she was temporarily immobile due to a back problem. Her son brought over plastic bags for each of the kids and said they were from his mom. The kids were so excited! They opened their bags and found a used white stuffed bear, 3 old dolls, a boy’s hat from the ‘80’s, an old Mexican doll blanket and one fun size Baby Ruth. The kids squealed with delight and rolled around on the floor like they just won the lottery! My husband and I both eyed each other and then looked under our Christmas tree filled with a multitude of wrapped gifts. We don’t go overboard at Christmas but we don’t exactly buy dolls with non-working rolling eyes either. The kids happily went off to play with their new treasures.

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Christmas gifts from the neighbor

 

The other day the kids walked over to our neighbor’s house for a visit. They said they missed her because they haven’t seen her for a few weeks. She welcomed them in and they stayed and chatted for about an hour. They both came home with their arms full. Bency had a coloring book that was only slightly used and a Christmas stuffed bear whose paw said 2005. Someone had taken an ink pen and colored around the eyes and nose. Bency proudly said he was going to name him Santa Bear. Iris had a Valentine Devil stuffed bear and a gold chain I.D. bracelet that said “Kelli” on the name plate. She asked me today to put it in her special drawer reserved only for her best bracelets. Up until today, this drawer has held 3 bracelets from her Papa and 2 from her cousin Jared.

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Gifts they received in July

 

Children don’t require a lot of money spent on them. They need someone who sits and listens to them, gives them hugs, makes them feel special by making them “tiny-sized loaves of bread” and perhaps a few token gifts with non-working rolling eyes!

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Iris’s gift she received: I.D. bracelet with the name “Kelli” on it