Newly wed, nearly dead

Tonight, my 92-year-old neighbor, Marie, was taken to the hospital. The ambulance and fire truck pulled up after 9 p.m., the red flashing lights reflecting inside our house. We rushed outside in the dark. Her daughter said she had a stroke. We stood in the lawn in our pajamas and bare feet, waving at her when six firefighters wheeled her right by us and into the ambulance. She waved back with a slight smile, her pale face lit up by the streetlight.

Our other next-door neighbor on the left, Lucille, who was 90 years old,  was moved into an assisted living facility last month. Both Lucille and Marie are original owners of their homes. The newly wed and the nearly dead is what they call our neighborhood. My husband went to the yard sale at Lucille’s after she moved out and her son was selling off her things. On one table was a little display with leather baby shoes from all five of her children and a sign that said: “50 Cents.”

I bake cupcakes for Lucille and Maria–lemon in the springtime and summer and chocolate in the fall and winter.   Lucille had been slowing down, but still dragged our trashcans up the curb and through our driveway every Thursday, for trash day. She did our house and probably six other houses on our block, including her own. She seemed to live for trash day. She couldn’t wait to be a contribution. After bringing her treats one day, she came over to our house with an old hand towel that had bells on it. “I wanted to give you something,” she said. “Thanks, honey.” She always called me honey.

Refusing to get hearing aids, she drove her son crazy as she lost more and more hearing, becoming deaf. She loved her lawn. Sometimes, with my bad depth perception, I’d back my car out at a bad angle and go over Lucille’s lawn. I’d see her inside, in the windows, peeking out with concern. Always polite, she’d give me a wave and a smile as I would mouth: “I’m sorry!” from the car.

Lucille’s house has been repainted, gutted, recarpeted, repainted, redone from top to bottom, including the backyard which was weed-whacked, de-shrubbed and untangled. Lucille used to sit in the window, always vigilant, always watching–the eyes (no longer the ears) of the neighborhood. Marie and Lucille didn’t get along, although they never talked about why. “She was always a little strange,” Marie would say, confidentially, after walking over some Greek cookies to us at Christmas. “This is the last year I’m doing this,” she would say, wiping the powdered sugar from the kourabiethes on her sleeve.

It’s the end of an era. Stan lived two houses down and died a few years back. He used to share his home-grown cucumbers with Marie, who shared them with us. My husband would go over and help both of our neighbors with little odd jobs, this or that, and was rewarded with baked goods and lavish praise. We loved them, both of them. We have lived next to them for five years.

To see those baby shoes–to have saved all five of your children’s baby shoes to have them hawked to perfect strangers for fifty cents. It was just too much. I couldn’t see all of her precious things reduced to pennies and peddled to any passersby.

But I guess that’s how it ends. With a pale face. A yard sale. New carpet. An ambulance at night. A slight wave. To our elderly neighbors. For all the produce left on our porch, for all the trash cans rolled back into their proper place, for all the times you looked out for us.

I guess that’s what they say: Good neighbors, good fences. But the sheer kindness of my neighbors has always changed my life. Love is an interruption. Marie: We’re thinking of you and sending lots of love.

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 I have been thinking a lot about turning forty, this slide into mid-life. Suddenly, I’m shopping for Clarkes instead of Jon Fluevog. I’m watching Botox procedures on YouTube for fun or googling plantar fasciitis. It happens so fast! I even caught myself wearing dog socks to work the other day. How has forty been for you? xo

Radio Interview about my story: “Breaking Up With Feminism”

www.jennifertill.com/2011/02/06/2511-real-life-with-jennifer-till/

Here’s a link to the radio interview I did with the delightful Jennifer Till who hosts a show called “Real Life” for women about work-life balance and finding joy in their busy lives.

This interview was based on the Breaking Up With Feminism story I wrote and published in the Star Tribune. Listen to some of her other interviews, too! I just love Jennifer’s show.

xo -Elaine

About Elaine

Elaine Gale is a writer, journalist, professor, artist, sixth-generation Nebraskan, fourth-generation educator, and all-around lightening rod. She is passionate about building community, unconventionality, fun, spiritual fulfillment, travel, reading, the literary arts, poetry slams, and all creative self-expression. She loves to help others discover, amplify and refine their speaking and writing voices.

She was a religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times and an advice columnist and pop culture reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. She also worked for the Boston Phoenix and the Utne Reader and has been a freelance writer for Entertainment Weekly, W, Cosmopolitan, Variety, Good Housekeeping, Utne Reader and Sacramento magazines, among others. She writes book reviews for several newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and the Star Tribune.

Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Journalism at California State University, Sacramento, and the Writing Center Director for Antioch University’s PhD Program in Leadership and Change, where she offers workshops on beating writer’s block, revisions, APA style, and demystifying the dissertation.. She leads generative women’s writing workshops, is a writing coach, freelance writer and editor, and teaches college courses on feature writing, magazine writing, news reporting, column and review writing, and literary journalism.

Her doctorate is in Human Communication from the University of Denver and she holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her undergraduate degree was a BA in English and Religion from Boston University. She also studied at Oxford University, St. Catherine’s College, in Oxford, England, and at Grenoble University in Grenoble, France.

Elaine loves activism that improves the lives of others, making paper, dancing, playing the djembe, paying people to cook for her, walking her dog, following her husband around in the outdoors, talking to large groups of people and exploring new ideas. She lives with her husband, Roc, and her scrappy border collie, Karma Jean, in Sacramento, California.