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Monday, February 20, 2012

Tribute to a Neighbor


Camellias bloom in her yard.
I saw them today, and all my memories of her returned.
My neighbor always waved when I walked my various dogs over the years.

 I watched her health decline
Until she stood on the porch each morning
Hacking up phlegm
With wracking emphysemic coughs,
Trying to get her weakened lungs
To clear out mucus they could not expel,
Just like my mother’s lungs ten years earlier,
Until my mother’s final breath.

For many years after my mother’s death,
My neighbor stepped out on her porch each morning
To stand in the sunshine,
Or should I say that she almost crouched.
Her malformed spine bent, she gagged and gasped,
Coughing, leaning toward her camellias,
Probably unable to appreciate their beauty,
When simply breathing took priority.

Am I the only one who loves the flowers in her yard?
Am I the only one with health enough to love them?

I’m sure that when her husband planted the bush twenty years before,
She cherished the idea that he added beauty to her life.
She told me once, after he died of a heart attack in his mid-fifties,
“Never a day went by that I did not feel loved.”

A few years later, she stood on the porch alone, without him,
Coughing up the residue she and he had inhaled for years,
And after she cleared her lungs, always she lit another cigarette.

I found it hard to muster sympathy,
When I knew she had brought on her illness,
Just as her cigar-smoking husband had brought on his,
Yet she always waved and wanted to talk,
And we had many cheerful conversations.

The year I collected funds for the March of Dimes,
She gave me a whopping fifty-dollar check.
The total I received from the neighborhood:
Seventy dollars.
Only two other neighbors donated, and they each gave five dollars.
I gladly matched the total and sent in the funds,
Wondering how wonderful it would have been if more had given more.

Her nickname always cheered me up,
Yet I could never quite recall it.
It was Candy or Cookie or something mouthwatering.
I hesitated to call her by name, because I never could remember it,
Even though she always waved me in and called me by my name
Whenever she saw me from her porch.
She could not come out to meet me; I had to go to her.
Her illnesses had limited her for years;
Her scoliosis and her emphysema
Made walking not only painful but also exhausting.

Her son and his infant moved in with her a year after her husband died,
And I thought that having a grandchild around would cheer her,
Keep her active,
But one day I overheard her son say to the garbage collector,
“My mother died last week.”

He moved out about thirty days later.
The house has stood empty ever since.
For a year I've picked up papers thrown in the yard,
Scattered around the mostly ignored For Sale sign
Amid the uncut grass.

I walked my dog past her camellias today.
Candy or Cookie may be gone, but her husband’s love blooms on.

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