My next door neighbor and I have not always gotten along very well. We both have dogs, and her George and my Raymond play a particularly annoying game of barking-along-the-fenceline. It’s been a source of some tension, but the last few months at least, thing settled into just cool instead of our previous state of low-level hostility.
Saturday, I was walking back from the hardware store when I ran into Mike, who lives on the far side of S.’s house. Turns out that part of the reason S. has been so cranky lately is that her mother is dying and she’d also just broken up with her boyfriend. I felt awful for her. Like me, she’s a single girl, and Mike told me she’d gone off to Billings and they were expecting her mother to die that day. Mike was keeping an eye on her dogs for her.
Well, I felt awful. I didn’t particularly like the girl but it was Mothers’ Day for goodness sake. Can you think of anything sadder than losing your mother on Mothers’ Day? And she was my next-door neighbor. And this is a small town. And she didn’t really seem to have any people to help her out other than me and Mike. So I went to the store and bought a roasted chicken, and some salad greens, and a brownie mix and a couple of bottles of wine. Call me hopelessly midwestern, but the last thing anyone needs when they come home from the hospital where their mother has just died is to think about dinner. So I made some salad and brownies for her, and packed it all in a box with the chicken and wine and a jar of lilacs from the bushes between our houses and left it on her front porch with a note saying to call if I can do anything.
You know, they teach you this in Sunday School, but sometimes they’re actually right. If you do something nice for someone, especially someone with whom you haven’t always gotten along, well, good things can happen. The next day, when I was taking out the garbage, S. was in her back yard and called over the fence. She was really thankful and we had a nice long chat. You hate to think it takes something like someone’s mother dying to give us both a sense of perspective.
The good news is that her mother seems to be pulling through the crisis, although she’s so riddled with cancer that she’s probably not going to make it through the week. But she’s off the ventilator and has a chance to say goodbye. And my neighbor and I are now freindly, which makes life so much more pleasant all around. Sometimes all it takes is a roasted chicken and a kind gesture, even when your heart isn’t really in it. Like Sister Bremner taught us all those years ago …