Ah, Mrs. Fruit... ...the older lady that abides in the downstairs half of the our rented house with her daughter Lump.I should pause to say that those are not the real names of my neighbors. They have simple respectable names, such as Edith and Renee.But Lump is kind of loud and oafish. Her bottom is wide and looks as if the potatoes still need mashed when she wears her stretchy pants. And Mrs. Fruit has always been a bit out there with her Einstein hair and matching velor jump suits. She had a tendency to repeat the same story over and over and over again, the little scratched record in her brain was never righted.
We have not always been good neighbors.
They are loud. Sometimes very mean to Mrs. Fruit. The conversations from down stairs are heard quite clear when I am in the bathtub.A few times I had the notion of elder abuse cross my wires.But there was the good daughter that would visit below, often. She was the order to the odd couple chaos. I had trust in her. And she always liked my flowers.
I have a green thumb. When the weather warms up it itches something fierce. My place has a huge yard, but alas, I do rent. There are to be no perennial flower beds, herb coves, or vegetable gardens for the likes of me. Thus my thumb gets a bit bloom crazy for the front porch. It borders on a bit of madness. I will put off food and laundry monies to plant just a few more begonias for the front steps.Two summers ago I decided to give the front porch a fresh coat of paint. And I tacked on to the agenda the picnic table that sat off to the corner. It was a sad table that saw very few fried chicken and watermelon type get togethers due to wobbly benches, a loose plank or two, and the chipped redwood paint.Three gallons of paint later the porch looked spectacular. The picnic table was now officially cute and fixed. I put off the water bill and purchased two white rocking chairs for the front porch and a new American Flag.I knew Mrs. Fruit would love these additions. She would often wonder out to the front porch and prune my flowers all the while the scratched record about her father's garden played and played. Before the rocking chair additions she would sit in the plastic camp fire chairs on the front porch and watch the traffic and the foul mouthed town teens go by. As for the new flag, I knew she would be over the moon. She loved to fix the little grave marker flags I put in the planter for Memorial Day and then would leave out for the rest of the summer so she could move them from planter to planter.
And I was right.Oh, how she loved the big flag and would stand next to it and watch it wave every morning.Oh, how she assumed those rocking chairs were hers all along.Oh, how she rocked her day away.
Then came the note, from Lump.
There was trouble.How dare I have painted the picnic table. HER picnic table. She would not have chosen those colors. How dare I! Our house was a shared house!At this point I could regale you with the rant that all my family and friends had to deal with. I was pretty perturbed.In the end I took a very deep breath and did the following.I wrote a brief letter back. I included an apology. That I had thought the picnic table belonged to the house not to her. That I fixed it so all could use it. That I planted the flowers to share with her mother, that her mother loved the front porch as much as myself, that the rocking chairs were for her...and that I was only trying to be a good neighbor.
I left the note with a new flower box full of pansies and a mini American flag on the back stoop (their main entrance to their half of the house).
A month later I ran into Lump at the mail box.She apologized and hugged me.And then told me all the things going on with her mother's declining health. In the time that has followed Mrs. Fruit came out less and less. And then Lump's yelling at Mrs. Fruit became more and more.
This past spring I was planting marigolds and using THE picnic table as a work space when Mrs. Fruit bolted from the front door. First she went to the corner to inspect the flowers and then to rock in her chair.I tried to start a conversation but her skipping record was playing to loud and she tuned me out.My arms were elbow deep in a manure bag when she went for the stairs. She has never attempted this by herself...I tried to get after her before she took on another step...and thenWOOSH. Renee was there yelling and screaming at her mom.And Mrs. Fruit just kept yelling back that she was sick of her and taking off for the woods and not coming back.
What an intense and personal family moment to be witnessed to. Renee took her back inside and came back and explained how her mother has been having mini-strokes and has been very difficult to handle. And that was why she has a day sitter during the week when Renee worked.
Poor Edith. Poor Mrs. Fruit.
This morning as I was making my bagel, there was a knock at the door. The last time there was a knock our pipes had burst and flooded the apartment below. I hate early morning knocks.
But it was Lump, Renee.She came to tell me that Mrs. Fruit died on Monday, that she knew we didn't get the paper, that was why there has been a lot of family coming over, and that there would only be simple services on Saturday.
Before I could say anything, she looked at me and said "...thank you for all the flowers, she really..."and then she broke into tears.I wanted to hug her, but thought better of it and let her get her burst of tears out of the way. I think she was embarrassed and did not see the tears coming in such a manner with me.
As she waddled down our stairs back to her apartment, I felt my own tears coming.
And I let them come.
For a woman who was a bit crazy and drove me a bit crazy too.
I do not believe in much.
But I do hope that where she is there are flowers to prune, an American Flag to admire and rocking chairs to rock...
and that someone has righted her skipping record...