Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you thought they would. I consider them to be life’s curveballs.
Linda has lived across the street from my parents as long as I can remember. That could be since 1968, the summer our family moved into our house back East. We moved in, and I left for Brownwood two weeks later to attend college.
It’s probable that Linda and her husband moved in a bit later. I was in Texas, and didn’t keep up with such things.
Wherever they lived, Mom and Dad always wanted to be neighborly. My parents quickly learned that Linda and her husband adhered to a different faith than ours. It’s a faith that Dad’s father had described as a cult. My grandfather had been a fire-and-brimstone type preacher. So for years, members of their family and ours would exchange pleasantries across the street as we came and went, and that was about it.
Meanwhile, my parents became close friends with the couples who lived on either side of them on their short cul-de-sac, and they stayed close even after those families moved to other cities.
Over the course of what has been almost 50 years now, the other three homes on the street changed owners several times. Some of these couples were young enough to be my parents’ grandchildren, so with very little in common, their association with my parents was basically — again — quick waves from their respective yards.
In time, my father died, and so did Linda’s spouse.
Perhaps it was the fact that both of them had lost their husbands. Regardless, Linda and Mom started talking to each other more often. A friendship blossomed, despite an age difference of almost 20 years.
“We just don’t talk about religion,” I can remember my mother saying matter-of-factly, and she repeated it often. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince me that it was all right for them to be friends, or if she was trying to convince herself.
Mother’s vision has been declining for years, the effects of the most severe type of macular degeneration. About five years ago, she gave up her driver’s license.
Suddenly, Mom was dependent on someone from her mainstream church — an arrangement that lasted for a couple of weeks — or my sister who lives in a nearby city to give her rides. Her church friends said they had other things to do, but some did call to tell her she was missed in worship. My sister went beyond the call of a daughter’s duty, but she has a husband, two boys in school and a teaching job to juggle.
Mother filled her days with work around the house. She and Linda — now retired from a nursing career — saw each other outside more often.
I like to think that the local newspaper had something to do with bringing them together. Mother could comfortably read only the headlines and see the photos, so she decided to cancel her subscription. They offered her a special discount, so she said “yes.”
If nothing else, she thought, I would enjoy reading it when I visit.
Meanwhile, Linda had stopped her subscription for financial reasons. The two decided they could share the morning paper.
Mother would look at it before throwing it into Linda’s yard. That didn’t happen until after Mother had dressed for the day, so Linda decided to come over to Mother’s house to say hello and pick it up. She started staying a while to read stories to her. They made coffee, tea, and lemonade.
Linda began helping Mom in surprising ways, like decorating the house for Christmas or Easter, holidays Linda’s faith tradition doesn’t observe. She never argued about how Mother expressed her faith; instead, she seemed pleased to be able to help Mother do so in the ways she wanted.
Sharing beverages progressed to sharing meals.
Mother said she asked Linda if it would be OK if she offered a blessing before eating, as is her habit. Linda was agreeable.
After a few meals, Linda asked if it would be OK if she said the blessing. Mother was agreeable. Linda voiced, as Mom described it, one of the most beautiful prayers she had ever heard. That woman can really pray, she told me a number of times.
Throughout it all, they kept high the barrier around any theological discussion that might have triggered debate.
In recent years, the two became almost constant companions. I could call the house at 10 p.m., and Linda would sometimes answer the phone. They would go out together for lunch. Shopping was sometimes on the agenda.
My sister and I made sure that Linda’s expenses related to such activities were covered. My sister would call Linda regularly to see how things were going, and to make sure they didn’t have something planned when she was going to come by. They developed a routine.
My sister and I agreed that without such a friend in our mother’s life, a more formal type of living assistance would probably soon be needed.
I saw my mother in April, and — yes — Linda was there when I turned into the driveway. Even though my visits are limited, we became friends too. She and my sister became even closer. They talked about Linda’s quasi-professional observations on how our Mother was faring, and my sister used this information and things she had seen herself during visits to Mom’s doctors.
During that April visit, Linda took me aside for a few moments and told me my mother was doing very well. But she added that I shouldn’t be worried if I called and no one answered. Mother sleeps soundly, she explained, and nothing rousts her. Not the telephone, not the doorbell, not even thunder. She stays up late at night, sleeps late in the mornings, and enjoys a long nap in the afternoons. When the weather’s nice, she’s probably outside. And even when she’s awake and in the house, she can’t always get to the phone before the answering machine picks up.
Linda assured me that she has a front door key, and she’s checking on Mom all the time. She conceded that some day, she figures she will walk across the street and find that things are not all right, and she dreads that happening. But happily, Mom’s health is exceptionally good, beyond her vision. It’s likely she has many years ahead, even though she will be 88 in November. Women in Mom’s family often live to be 100 or more.
One evening last weekend, Linda didn’t answer my sister’s phone calls. After repeated attempts to her landline and cellular numbers, Linda finally picked up the cell phone. She wasn’t feeling well, she said. She wanted her son to take her to the doctor, but he couldn’t be reached.
The next morning, my sister arrived at Mom’s house and went across the street to see if Linda had made it to the doctor. She didn’t want to let her in, saying her house wasn’t ready for company. My sister could tell Linda was in severe pain.
Over Linda’s protests, my sister called 9-1-1. Neighbors rallied when the ambulance arrived. Her next-door neighbors — an Asian family who immigrated here to work in the technology industry — said they would watch Linda’s pets. Other neighbors appeared to ask what they could do.
Linda was admitted to the hospital with a perforated colon, and doctors said her situation was dire.
Two days later, Linda passed away, at age 69. A day earlier, her family had been thanking my sister for saving Linda’s life. Now, they were thanking her for giving them some time together before she passed.
Linda was a friend who will be hard to replace. Good ones always are. But guess what my sister told me last night? The young neighbor who lives next door to Mom had dropped by. She said she hopes they can get to know each other better. Did I understand this right? Her father and Linda worshipped together?
That pitch wouldn’t be a curve, Grandpa; it’s a knuckleball.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.