Neither one of us wishes to be friends, but we’re friendly. Scottie has lived next door to my parents for almost forty years now. In June of 2010, my husband and I built our house on a piece of my father’s land — deep in the woods, not too far from Scottie’s little white, one-story ranch. So even before we were neighbors I knew her. Before her hair was gray, before she leaned on a cane, and before her husband, her best friend, had passed away, we were aquainted. At least enough that I can say I’ve watched her grow old, just as I have my own parents, and yet I do not know her at all.
I offer to help sometimes, when we encounter each other out by our mailboxes. Our driveways are long, perhaps 350 feet or so. They wind by a pond where frogs chirp from deep within the cat-o-nine tails, and the great blue heron escapes into the sky, never failing to be startled by the crunch of gravel under our feet, never waiting-still long enough to see we pose no threat. Scottie and I must each pass under the same beeches and oaks, the black walnuts and pines, the trees that block the sun mostly — only splatterings of light here and there on her drive and on mine — until we reach the main road where sunshine can reach us if it’s wont to, but being the North East, it might not be so inclined. I imagine the trek can’t be easy for her.
“Scottie,” I ask, “would you like me to bring your trash barrels out to the road on Monday? Can I pick up your mail? As long as I’m getting my own I might as well.”
And she’ll respond, “Thanks, but I like to do it myself.”
Sometimes I ask her how she’s doing and her answer has always been a sweet yet curt, “oh, just fine thanks,” as she peers into the mail box, and then slowly bends to collect the ValuMail flyer that the paper-person has carelessly tossed into the weeds and bramble.
We usually part with a few words about the weather. “This heat is really something isn’t it?” I ask, not really expecting a response but she adds, “Aya, sure is,” and turning, she casts her gaze outward and upward, as if to confirm the state of the climate and to let me know she has given my question some thought. And there we part, she ambling slowly and I at my younger-woman pace, having learned nothing and having shared nothing, but she knows that I am here if she needs me.
She did need me once, after the October storm a few years ago. I went out to see what kind of damage we had sustained and found her struggling with the tree branches that blocked her drive. She wouldn’t stop long enough for me to go get help from stronger hands, and so we worked side by side. Eighty-something year old Scottie and I, dragged the heavy limbs through the snow and piled them off to one side of her driveway so that the snowplow would not pass her by. We worked in silence except for the snap of limbs or the whisper of snow under the weight of them. I’m not sure, but she must have said thank you. She’s always been polite.
Each year at Christmas I invite her to our Holiday Open House, but she has never come. I can see her in her kitchen widow, alone, shuffling from stove to sink as my house fills with friends and food. She has come to my Mother’s Day brunch though, a smaller affair where we invited a few neighbors and, of course, my mother and even my husband and father. We had a lovely time over a blueberry strata smothered in pure maple syrup that I purchased at the local farm stand last spring. Scottie had little to say but she smiled a lot, and she brought a flowering plant.
A few weeks later, I planted her gift in the garden on the side of our house. It’s in a place where Scottie will see it when she looks out her kitchen window. It’s just my way of confirming, that between New England neighbors, sometimes a flowering plant says all that needs to be said.