Pot-Holes and Pit-falls

5 Jun

I grew up in a quiet neighborhood, on a pot-holed dirt road, with retired people and sea creatures as my neighbors. Mostly, anyway. Gretchen and I – my perfectly-named neighbor across the street – were the only children in the immediate vicinity. We had a couple other friends down the road in either direction, but right on our street, it was just us and the retirees.

Our immediate neighbor to the right was an empty lot. He never threw loud parties or complained about Mom and Dad’s loud classical music. Abutting the lot on the far side was a retired science teacher from Seattle. She never married, had two loud and slightly scary dogs, and seemed to have endless supplies of cash to pour into her beautiful garden. At least in my childish viewpoint she did.

On the left side of our house was another single lady, a widow, who had lost her husband decades before in the Bataan Death March during WWII. I still dream about her house sometimes. She had this winding staircase up to a tiny loft that I adored.

Both of these neighbors were more than kind to me. They didn’t mind me playing in their yards, they loved when I’d knock on their doors just to come over and visit and they had endless supplies of candy.

Which I appreciated very much.

Me – circa these memories. This was the vacant field next to our house. One of our favorite family photos!

The neighbor with the dogs, however, had a special deal with me. She would read out loud to me, do science experiments with me, and spend time with me as long as I continued to come. “But,” she told me one day, “if you don’t want to keep on coming over, just tell me. Don’t just quit coming. Tell me you’re too old for this. Tell me you want to do other things. Don’t just stop. Keep me informed. Don’t just ditch me.”

I didn’t understand the intensity of her plea.

I remember thinking at the time, “Why would I not want to come over here? Why would I not want to visit your National Geographic room where every single issue of the magazine lines the walls like yellow wallpaper? Why would I not want to lie on your fainting couch and gaze out your circular window at the ocean while you read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories to me and I learn how, exactly, the camel got his hump? Why would I not want to walk along your pebble-lined garden paths and admire your gorgeous roses? Why would I not want to measure your amaryllis day to day and see how quickly it grows? Why would I not want to learn how to use a slide-rule? Why?

I am ashamed to say that I stopped wanting to do those things all too quickly.

But I didn’t have the heart to tell her so.

She had asked me to warn her. She had told me about other children who had just ditched her, just ignored her, just quit coming. And I became one of those kids because I didn’t know how to tell her I didn’t want to visit her any more. I didn’t know how to tell her that I wanted to ride my bike, to go shopping, to fix my hair.

So I just stopped showing up. I stopped opening the gate and crossing that empty lot. I fell into the pit-fall she had feared. I was growing up, entering the self-centered years.

My sister tells me that this neighbor is still alive, still living in her same house. It’s funny, because to me she was elderly then and I can’t imagine how old she must be now. I wonder: how many shelves does she have in that magazine room by now?

Maybe I could visit her this summer, when I go back to Orcas Island for a visit? Maybe I could bring my kids and introduce them. Tell them that she is the reason we measure amaryllis every year, that I know how to use a slide rule, that I like shrimp cocktail and round windows.

Tell her that, because of people like her, I am who I am.

Another of my father’s photos – Buckhorn, Orcas Island, WA. This is the headland just past our house back in our island days. I miss this view.

I am everything I have ever done. The good and the bad. What makes me who I am today is a combination of all of the things I have ever been, done, seen, heard, felt, experienced, tasted, smelled, accepted, rejected, believed, enjoyed, loathed, loved.

There are so many people in my life I need to thank. Not blame. Thank.

Who can YOU begin to thank today?

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16 Responses to “Pot-Holes and Pit-falls”

  1. Hotly Spiced June 5, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    It would be so lovely if you could go and see her again this year – she would be so thrilled. I love that photo of you. I wish I had one of me like that! That photo is like something you would see in a photographic exhibition. Great post Gretchen xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 5, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Thanks, Charlie! It’s definitely a favorite family photo. And yes, I’ll have to see about visiting her this summer for sure!

  2. Minnesota Prairie Roots June 5, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    This post is giving me goosebumps and making me teary-eyed all at once. It sounds like you had a fabulous childhood with all those wonderful neighbors and your friend Gretchen and classical music-playing parents.

    YES, you must visit your former neighbor with kids in tow and thank her. Just think how very happy you will make her.

    And, please, take your camera with and show us all those wonderful, enchanting rooms, and the path and the window and the garden…

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 5, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      I’ll definitely have to ask my sister if the neighbor is up to visitors – I have no idea if she is or not, but I’ll do my best! Thank you, Audrey –

  3. treadlemusic June 5, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Ditto to all that Audrey said. Definitely ‘teary eyed’!!! Although you and I grew up in entirely different geographic areas, you have described much of what I had growing up. Healthy, creative imagination derived from voraciously consuming books (when old enough, the library was a daily destination) or being read to. Hours spent outdoors conjuring up all sorts of ‘fantastical’ worlds that, with rare exception, isn’t even “on the radar” of kids today!! As you say, we are who we are today because of these moments; and the adults of tomorrow will be…………. The tech world we live in is really fascinating but how much is lost by those who have been raised in a Dilbert-type cubical with all the techie gadgets as opposed to taking a walk in the woods and letting imagination take flight! I will, now, put my little “soap box” away! Hugs, Doreen

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Yeah, our kids definitely aren’t in the same world we were in. It makes me sad – not even safe to ride bikes alone to the library (we’re too far away, but even if we weren’t – no dice). On the other hand, there are things which are better, too – dads are more involved, for instance. I guess we need to look on the bright side, yes?!

      • treadlemusic June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

        Yes, but where I lived Dads were involved ……even wa-a-a-ay back then!!!!! Tee-he!

  4. Renee June 5, 2012 at 11:32 am #

    Loving your post – beautiful – thanks for sharing! I had many people who molded and guided me as I grew up and oh so thankful for that:) Have a Great Day!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 5, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

      Yes, it’s great to have people we can look at and be thankful for. Thanks, Renee!

  5. whatimeant2say June 5, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    You really write beautifully! I love the thought of you bringing your children to see that neighbor. I think that would be a lovely gesture!

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 5, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

      Thank you so much. It’s been a long day and you have made me smile! I definitely will try and see if I can make it work to see her. Then, of course, I’ll blog about it!

  6. Paws To Talk June 6, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    This is a lovely post! We always have to start by thanking our humans. 🙂
    Bella and DiDi

    • Gretchen O'Donnell June 7, 2012 at 7:26 am #

      🙂 You make me smile.

      • Paws To Talk June 7, 2012 at 7:46 am #

        Thanks Gretchen! We are making the rounds today but wanted to let you know we gave you and award. Check out yesterday’s post for the details. We love your blog!
        Bella and DiDi

        • Gretchen O'Donnell June 7, 2012 at 11:36 am #

          Oh, you are just the nicest! I’ve been horribly deliquent about reading other posts lately – I’ve been a bit laid up with a weird leg thing. (Makes me feel ancient!) THANK YOU! I’ll totally check it out!

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