The Neighbor

In Memory of Mary

The Neighbor

It was Mary’s 95th birthday then. Her parents arrived to the United States from Italy, or, perhaps, they met here -- I don’t know for sure. However, it was Mary herself -- and that is how it ought to have been, since our backyards were divided not by a simple fence, but a fence with a gate -- it was Mary herself who came over to welcome us to the neighborhood, bringing a cake and congratulating us with a new place of residence.

I was very touched and decided that, perhaps, this is how it always happens in America. It was much later that I found out that this custom is not widely spread, and that one may run into very different kinds of neighbors. Oh, how different they can be -- and we have six of them directly surrounding our yard, not to mention those who live across the street or further down our relatively short street.

For the past three years, Mary has been living in a nursing home, fortunately not the worst one. She struggled in getting used to a new life in a new place. Remembering all the years, especially that very first visit with a cake fifteen years ago, I have tried, and still do, my best to visit her regularly. I was later joined by another neighbor, whom Mary had been helping for nearly 20 years -- she didn’t exactly nursed her children, but she frequently took them over to her house.

A while ago she was in a car accident, which may have affected her ability to have children, and she concentrated on helping her sister’s kids, and later, in turn, their children.

However, she now lives in a nursing home, and I'm not sure how often her relatives show up for a visit. Perhaps, once a year or so - her birthday, or Christmas, who knows. Her other neighbor and myself are frequently taken for her relatives. It seems that we are seen there more often than her family members.

Mary married at a fairly young age, choosing a husband younger than herself, a decision, for which, to put it mildly, she was disapproved by her mother-in-law.

Her husband adored her; he bought her a house, a car. About twenty years ago, maybe more, he died after an illness.

Mary always loved to cook and bake, and she is still in pretty good shape, although she suffers from low activity because of a wheelchair. She always cooked and entertained all her relatives, showered them with gifts. She knew how to sew, how to tailor and style. Almost until her ninety second birthday, she drove, buying a new car as an 85th birthday gift to herself. At the age of ninety two, when she felt hesitant getting behind the wheel, we persuaded her to stop driving.

I believe thousands of people enjoyed her pies, cakes, lasagna, meatballs. Now only a handful of them visit her at a nursing home.

How short is the human memory, and how quickly all good things are forgotten.

My son, who is seventeen, remembers her kindness; sometimes he joins me or my students in recitals, playing to her on various musical instruments. Years ago Mary herself played the piano - by ear, because large poor Italian family did not have enough money for music lessons.

Mary is a complex personality; she is right in saying, “Think before you ask my opinion."

People are always drawn to her, and she always tried to provide gentle warmth and nurturing to those who needed it. Not playing herself, and not carried away by any athletic activity, she nevertheless never missed a single sporting event on television and knew the names of all winners and sports teams. Here she had no equals.

Mary had one more passion - the English singer Engelbert Humperdinck - his real name is Arnold George Dorsey, born in 1936, a native of India, who took the name of the 19th century English composer as his stage name. She was a member of his fan club, and never missed a single one of his concerts in the United States.

I had to learn about this singer, and even participate in purchasing Mary’s tickets to one of his concerts.

She had all his records and even his autograph. And at one of the concerts - she always sat in the front row - she even got a kiss from her beloved artist.

I must note that Mary has never traveled outside the country.

I don’t think she’s ever flown on airplanes, perhaps this was due to her accident, and before that - due to the lack of funds. Her world consisted of people for whom she lived, and whom she helped. If she was going to the dentist, she would bake his favorite muffins. She knew the tastes and preferences of her great-nephews and great-nieces, and always wanted to indulge them with their favorite treats "from Aunt Mary."

Let there be more goodness and warmth coming from people like my neighbor Mary, and let our memory forever retain all the good things in the world. Do not forget good people and good deeds, which make the world warmer and cleaner.

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