Yesterday was no exception. We had record high temperatures and I was enjoying a cigarette and a fine Spaten Optimator while sitting in the doorway of my garage. I noticed that there were two cars at the house kitty-corner from mine. I tend to watch our neighbor's houses and note their habits. It isn't out of some particular busy-body impulse, it's because I feel it's important that we all watch out for each other. Perhaps that is old-fashioned or relentlessly Midwestern, but there it is.
The particular house in question is owned by a very old and small woman, whose name I have never gotten. She is taciturn and very much keeps to herself. I keep a particular eye on her, due to her age and the fact that she lives alone. Two adults are escorting her into the house, with one of them holding a plastic bag. I recognize one of them as her eldest son, a man in his fifties in his own right. By the way she was holding the other man's arm, I worried that perhaps she had been ill. I largely pushed it out of my mind, her son and other relatives where there.
Several hours later I was busy putting dishes into the dishwasher when my wife Weetabix called out to me from her office, telling me that there seemed to be some police out on the street. I had heard sirens earlier, but thought nothing of them, as we live near a street where the local FD regularly travels from their station a scant mile away. Putting down various implements of food destruction, I stepped out into the front yard.
A fire truck and an ambulance are situated in front of the old woman's house. I can see various firemen and paramedics milling around in and out of the house. Standing on the corner of my property is our local gossip/busy-body Holly, and Biff and his wife, who live some four houses up from me. Biff is an interesting cat, long hair, long mustache, sandals and a penchant for drinking Crown Royal. He's our own local Jimmy Buffet, without the music. My overall impression is that Biff would have been much better off in California in the '60s than in Green Bay Wisconsin now. I know Biff fairly well, he tends bar at a local joint where I used to play darts.
I walked over and asked what was going on. Apparently the old woman was having a problem. Holly told me that one of our other neighbors (who, I didn't hear) had seen her outside raking earlier. We had been having unseasonably warm weather, with temperatures rising up to 80 degrees. 100 year records for temperature were broken yesterday.
The old woman was extremely particular about the exterior appearance of her house. In the summer, she would use her expensive Ariens mulching lawn mower to meticulously cut her yard. Sometimes this was as often as every two days, to maintain the neatly groomed look she was going for. When she did this, she would place a chair near her garage in the shade so she could take breaks. The lawn is small, but at her age it required several rest stops to finish for her. I had offered to cut the lawn for her for free several times but had been firmly rebuffed. My lawn was no where as neat as hers, and clearly I wasn't up to the task.
She would also edge her side walk by hand, with a small hand spade and some clippers. She used a stool and would move up the sidewalk, inch by painful inch. I own a gas-powered edger and I offered to edge for her several times. Again, I was politely but firmly rebuffed. I always felt bad watching her edge on her little stool. Her hands were gnarled with arthritis and it would often take all day for her to complete the task. In the fall she would rake her yard, often three times a day. Not one single stray leaf was allowed on her immaculate little yard, although the trees and wind conspired against her more often than not. Offers of help for this task were also politely declined.
She was seen raking today in a sweatshirt, taking the occasional break to her chair. At one point, the anonymous neighbor noticed that she was not just sitting in the chair, but she was slumped down in it. They checked on her and found her unconscious. Help in the form of an ambulance and her children were summoned. The scene I witnessed earlier from my garage was her children returning her home from a two hour stay in the emergency room.
We stood on the corner of my yard and watched the activity in the old woman's house. There was no running about, no real sense of urgency. To me, as I remarked to Holly and Biff, was either a good sign or a very bad one. Soon, the brought her out on a stretcher and put her into the waiting ambulance. Several minutes later, the ambulance departed, lights on, but no sirens. Biff and his wife depart, for them the show is over.
Holly and I stand and chat for a moment when we see the eldest son begin walking to his truck, which was parked up the street. I ran over to him, with Holly in tow, and asked if there was anything we could do to help. His response was "Pray". He told us that she was dehydrated and had passed out in the bathroom. He was sure they would keep her in the hospital this time. I felt guilty, and told him I had offered her help several times to no avail. He grimaced and said "I'm her oldest son, and she won't take help from me. I'm not surprised." Holly and I then said our goodbyes to him and returned to my front yard. After chatting for a few minutes, Holly returned across the street to her house as well.
Later that night I was again sitting in the doorway of my garage, enjoying another beer and a smoke. I looked over at the old woman's house and was overcome with a strange feeling of sadness. For the last 10 years, we have lived near this woman. She has been alone, her husband died years ago. I have watched her and her house, her scrupulously neat yard. I have approached her to help her, sometimes just to chat. She was always very polite, but I got the sense that she wasn't comfortable with the contact.
I don't know that the old woman will be back. It is very possible that she will be. At her age you never can really know. Holly had related to me that the old woman was lonely and missed her husband, whose passing had to have been at least a decade earlier. Holly is good at ferreting out the scoop on anyone in the neighborhood.
I know in my heart that things change. I know that people, good people end up alone sometimes and that they get old and die. For the old woman, she has been biding her time. Her children are grown, as are her children's children. Her husband has passed away. Yet, the selfish side of me always wants that old woman to be there, raking her leaves, mowing the lawn, and edging the sidewalk.
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