We do not live in Mr. Rogers neighborhood.
“Neighbor, my girl is driving me crazy! Can she come over to your house to play?” a voice yelled over the fence. The girl was four and the voice belonged to her Mom— my first introduction to our new neighbors. Cole, barely two, was playing with his dump truck under a tree when Gabby’s mom lifted her over the fence, dropped her into our yard, introduced herself as Carolyn, and told me just to yell back over the fence if I needed anything. I should digress a moment and mention this was long before we had the 6 foot plus fence. The girl marched up to Cole, told him her name was Gaby, and informed him that she was older and would take over the dump truck operation. Cole, intrigued, agreed for the moment, but soon Cole and Gaby had a love-hate relationship, and Carolyn and I had a best-neighbor/mom friendship that lasted until they moved to their new neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri.
The kids played and fought non-stop. Cole, my earlier riser, would stand at the fence the moment I would let him out into the yard, hollering, “Gabby, come out and play!” Now, of course, Gaby was a late-to-bed, late-to-rise type of gal and liked to wake up slowly and enjoy her cereal and tuning into cartoons. Being an early riser, Cole had no respect for the late riser and would continue to summon her to come and play. Eventually, Gabby would meander to the window and call out with four-year-old exasperation, “Cole Ruscitti, can’t you see I am eating my cereal?” Eventually, the two would meet, and for the rest of the day, they would torture one another. They could not stand to be together or apart. Mostly, Carolyn and I ignored them. It became a competition to see who could lift their kid over the fence into the other kid’s yard first. Of course, Carolyn had the Baby Jack card in her hip pocket, and it’s hard to argue with “well, they could play here, but I just got Jack down for a nap.” I remember telling Joe more than once that we should think about having another baby right away.
My best Carolyn story has always turned other women all goose bumpy in awe. She had a housekeeper for four years and John, her husband, never knew! One day, he came home early, while the housekeeper was cleaning and in panic she pushed her out the back door and I summoned the bewildered woman into my yard. Luck for Carolyn I was home. Of course, she covered for me too. During spring cleaning, she always let me use her garbage cans to hide stuff since dearly departed Joe would comb through the garbage certain I was throwing some of his stuff away. Naturally, I was. Now, one day, her husband came in with one of Joe’s sweaters and asked her who it belonged to, and being a quick thinker, she told him it was the sweater his sister gave him (didn’t he remember?), but she didn’t think that he wanted it because it was much too big for him. Well, damn her, of course he wanted it! After all, his sister gave it to him, didn’t she? We were both grateful he never wore it in front of Joe.
One of the best things about living next door to Carolyn and John was not having to cook most nights. Carolyn always cooked too much for dinner despite the fact that her family refused to eat leftovers, so before she pitched dinner in the garbage, she would find Joe and ask him if he wanted the leftovers. Joe would always ask, “How old are they”? Carolyn would always respond, “Joe, I just made them tonight,” and food would pass over the fence. I served them up the next night for dinner. In exchange, I would try to send dessert their way a few times a week. We made a lifetime of memories in the short time we were neighbors and never lost touch after they took off for Missouri.
This week, we were sad to hear that John’s dad, “Grandpa” to all the kids (he used to hand out ice-cream money at the first note of “Pop Goes the Weasel” from the ice-cream truck), had passed away. Our neighbors were, of course, back in Chicago, and Cole and I attended the wake. The kids had not seen each other in years. Cole and Gabby warmly hugged one another, and Cole announced that he had finally learned to color within the lines. I’m not sure that Gabby believed him, but in the interest of maturity, she gave him the benefit of the doubt.
I think these two pictures of that was then and this is now are worth a 1000 words
My yard back in the days, two kids, one ready to nail the other with the hose and run for his life.
Things have changed. On the outside. Wondering about Cole’s hair? The next day, he had a haircut and is no longer sporting the Kramer (Seinfeld reference) haircut.
Odd Loves Company!
P.S. El Morno coming to Odd soon…..