She was not patient. She was not kind. Edna was not the neighbor ready with a warm welcome when we bought the house on Harrison Street next door to hers.
She was not interested in warm welcomes because she was not interested in change. A four-foot-tall woman in her nineties, Edna insisted on everything remaining precisely as it had always been, and as it had always been meant 1942, the year she moved into her house. When I asked if I could install a gate across our shared driveway to keep our small children contained in the backyard, she scrunched her small, wrinkly face and said, “It’s never been a problem before. Why don’t you just watch your kids? That’s not a gate’s job, that’s your job!”
She was not gracious. She was not merciful, especially not to children whose wiffle balls flew over her fence. Edna was not amenable to my idea to remove two feet of fence so that our kids could pass between our yard and their friends’ yard behind us. She insisted that it stay exactly as it was—no gaps, no gates, no holes. The fence is there, she said, because one day back in the 1980s a man just walked right through the yard, and he looked suspicious. There hasn’t been a problem since the fence went up, and the fence has now been there for a long time, and why would we want to go and change things? Why do you insist on changing everything?
She did not change, although she did adapt to the seasons. Every spring she hand-washed and line-dried her linens, window dressings, and undergarments so they would last another hundred years beyond her. (Stoic as she was, at least once a year, Edna’s underwear flew over the backyard like a pirate flag.) One day every May, a slim man in his sixties would arrive in his red pickup truck, unload his mower, and spend a full eight-hour day mowing the lawn and trimming the edges of the yard until it looked like a golfing green. She would watch vigilantly from the porch all day, letting him know when he missed a spot. In late June, another handyman would arrive in his white service van to climb a ladder and install a single air-conditioning unit in the window of her dining room, where she would sleep during the summer months. In late August, the same service man would return, take down the AC unit, and put the bars back on the window.
She did not want to leave the house, the porch, or the backyard garden where her irises and roses bloomed every year for more than half a century. Until the day she could no longer drive, Edna left the house on Sunday mornings, backing her 1985 Buick down the driveway and slowly cruising to St. James Catholic Church two blocks away.