Sunday, June 19, 2016

Remember When..

Our neighbours, Blanche and Emery

Today is Father's Day, and two weeks ago, it was Memorial Day, or "Race Day", as we called it in Indianapolis, when I was growing up. I always get a bit nostalgic this time of year. I miss my mom and dad so much. I miss being a part of a family, and knowing where I stood within it. I miss feeling rooted in a familiar world and life. 

Memorial Day weekend was a special time in our town. I remember fondly all of the activity around it: my dad going to put little flags on veterans' graves for his Legion chapter in the morning; my mother, seated at the kitchen table, radio tuned into the countdown to the start of the Indy 500, newspaper carefully folded with the names of all the cars and drivers and their positions on the track; the smell of new mown grass, windows and doors open, a breeze flowing through the dining room to soften the summer's heat. 

It is true that life seemed simpler, then. I don't want to be one of those people who go on and on about how much better it was in the 'old days', but today, I feel the need to do just that. My childhood was not an easy one--there was hunger and poverty and chaos fuelled by heavy drinking, among other things, involved--but there were anchors of stability that kept my sanity intact. There were extended relative visits and regular holiday reunions. There were camping trips and vacations with neighbours and friends. There was girl scouts and swimming lessons and Bible School and big gardens and fruit trees and the bookmobile that came around every two weeks, bringing me solace and adventure, all summer long. 

And there were neighbours who loved us and stood by us, like the ones in the photograph, above. 

Blanche, (or "Butch" as we called her), and Emery lived next door to us throughout my entire childhood. They still live in the same house, a house once surrounded by corn and soybean fields, that is sandwiched, now, amidst a glut of suburban sprawl.  They had a strong faith and they were devoted to our church, but they didn't blast their beliefs or force them upon others. They simply lived by the values to which they subscribed, helping those around them in quiet and unimposing ways. They visited neighbours who were sick and in hospital. They volunteered at the local firehouse (along with my dad), and taught Sunday School. 

I remember learning, at the age of five or six,  that Blanche made delicious cooked dinners every night, including home-baked desserts, and, from then on, I made it a point to come around to their house, at precisely 6 p.m., when I knew she'd be setting the table for her family. I'm sure it must have been irritating to them, this little waif from next door, begging food, but they never refused me, once. They'd answer my knock politely, and invite me in, an extra place at the table already set. 

Once, Blanche found out that I had been teaching her son, who was two years younger, the art of swearing and smoking cigarettes, and I was banned from the house, for a short while, but the banishment didn't last. I depended on them, and on the stability they offered, and something in them must have known it, because, before long, I was invited back into their family fold.  

They indulged me in my all my fundraising efforts and money making schemes, through the years, buying cards from me at Christmas, girl scout cookies and band candy in the winter, and seeds for planting in the spring. 

Blanche and Emery were there for every part of our lives, standing with us through all of our many trials and sorrows. They were there for funerals and weddings, and they supported us through incarcerations and various troubles with the police. Our wild family brought much drama to that little street, and they could have turned the entire neighbourhood against us, but they didn't. Instead, they chose to reach out their hands to help us, when they could. 

When my father died at the Veteran's Hospital, my mother and I called them, first. When my sister got sick, one of her last wishes was to visit Indianapolis, before she died, and to spend some time with them, so we brought her back to the old neighbourhood, flying her in from Florida. They invited us over for one of Blanche's delicious dinners, and, though Debra couldn't eat it, she got to sit at their table and listen to the exchange of memory between us. When my mother died, a year later, they held a gathering for all of us at their house. 

 I saw them last in November of 2014, shortly after the sudden death of my husband. Knocking on their door, walking back into that old house, I felt like I was six years old, again, and my whole body breathed a sigh of relief. They helped me weather my childhood. They brought a hint of normalcy to it. I will always treasure the gift of their presence, and the stability they brought to me.

Sitting here in England, this Father's Day, watching the cold rain pour outside my window, I remember them. I remember how they loved my father and delighted in his humour. I remember how they invited me in to eat with them, when my persistent presence probably drove them nuts. I remember hayrides in their fields in the autumn, ice cold Kool Aid and a freezer full of popsicle treats to stave off the relentless heat, in summer, their carefully tilled gardens, rich with fresh carrots and tomatoes and ripe strawberries to eat.

 I remember them, my good Samaritan neighbours--their kindness and generosity, their compassion and lack of judgement, and how they reached out their hands, always, to the poor and not so saintly family who lived in the house next door.