Look in the mirror. What do you see?
When my wife and I moved into our house on 78th St in the (414) there was an elderly couple who lived next door, Mel and Eula.
Mel was a WWII vet. He liked to sit in his backyard in a lawn chair with his shirt off whenever it was warm out. He loved the sun, and it didn’t matter how hot it was.
He was in his 80’s when we moved to the block and was already in pretty bad shape. He couldn’t walk much without a walker. Sometimes he used two canes to get around.
He and I didn’t talk too much. When I was in the yard doing yard work and he was out sunning himself was usually when we’d chat. He liked to tell me about the war sometimes, or about how the neighborhood used to be, stuff like that.
He died a few years after we moved in. My wife and I went to the wake. There is a funeral parlor at the end of 78th St. on Burleigh St. which is a fairly busy main street in this area of the 414. There were not a lot of people at the wake, at least not when we were there. Seems most people they knew either died or moved from the neighborhood long ago, including their two kids, grown with kids of their own and living in other states. I’ll assume they came to the funeral but did not recall seeing either of them.
Mel was Mel. Well meaning but a little crabby and a little gruff.
Eula was a super nice lady. Eula was always on the go. Eula was active.
I don’t recall exactly how long Eula lived after Mel died but it was a good 5 or 6 years.
She had a cat. She would put the cat on a thin cat leash so the cat could be outside for awhile during the day. Sometimes she’d walk the cat around the yard on the red cat leash. My wife and I thought that was funny and the three of us would laugh about the cat on the leash.
I’d help her out where I could. Little stuff mostly. I’d shovel or rake her walk or lawn when I could. I’d help her move things around her house or help her bring groceries in. It was always a bit surreal when I was inside her house because it had nearly the same exact layout as our house. Our houses were mirror images of the other.
Mel had liked to make model WWII fighter airplanes. My brother and I liked to make models when we were young. There was a toy store we went to that had all kinds of stuff we liked, including model sets. We made cars and planes and all different models. The ones we made were usually made of plastic. I liked the ones you had to use the glue for. The snap on ones they came out with later were a little too cheaply made and not as challenging.
Mel’s models were cool – solid and detailed. He had hung them in the basement of their house. Eula never took them down after Mel died and the few times I was in the basement I liked looking at them. They were a squadron in fight, off to battle. I should have asked her if I could have had one. She would have given me one. I’m sure they ended up in the trash somewhere.
I know that Eula was alive for 2 or 3 years after my daughter was born. I know at least once she has us over during the Christmas season. We just had cookies and hot chocolate or whatever. It wasn’t a big deal but I know Eula liked the company. My daughter is 11 now. She doesn’t really remember Eula that much now but she liked her back then. She would always talk to Eula when we’d see her and tell her stuff about school or whatever was going on. We were just neighbors hanging out.
Last weekend my daughter and I were at the mall. We came home and parked in front of the house. As we pulled up I noticed an elderly woman walking down the block. She got to the front of our house and stood there looking at it as I parked the car. My daughter and I sat in the car for a moment and watched her. After that moment the woman turned around and walked to the end of the block. We gathered our stuff from the mall and got out of the car. As we did the woman was already walking back towards us.
I could tell she needed something. We walked towards her and I asked her if she was ok. She said she lived on 79th St. but could not find it and did not recognize anything. She looked and was definitely confused.
I sent my daughter inside and told the woman I would help her get home. I asked her where she lived and she said she was not sure but would recognize it when she saw it. I asked about her family and if there was someone I could call. I asked her how long she had lived in the neighborhood. She didn’t have an answer for any of the questions, and I could tell she was frustrated that she didn’t.
We got as far as the alley between 78th and 79th streets. She said she recognized the alley but not really which house it was. She said she was going to plant a big plant in the backyard in the spring so she would have an easier time recognizing where she lived. I offered to walk her down the alley to her house but she insisted it was ok now that we had found 79th St. I let her go. I should have gone with her anyway, I think. I hope she got home.
Eula and Mell had planted a big lilac bush in their back yard towards the back right by the alley. It was there when we moved in. I love that bush. Lilacs smell so good when they bloom and the alley by our garage smelled so good when it did. It seems to me that lilac flowers do not last very long, though, and after a few weeks they die off.
The new neighbors are nice. They are younger with two young daughters. We don’t talk much except hellos when we see each other in the yard. I do wish they took better care of the lilac bush. Its in pretty bad shape and only a few of the flowers bloom in the spring now. I should have dug it up and planted it in our yard after Eula died and before her daughter sold the house.
I don’t know why I didn’t ask the lost woman her name. It was not Eula, though I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t think it was her for one short moment. I don’t believe in a lot of things. I usually believe in things I can see, hear, taste, touch. Everything else is suspect. I do wonder about a lot of things and I have a lot of questions and I try not to assume that what I believe is always necessarily right.
I recognized something in the woman’s face. That’s it. I tend to assign meaning to things where there is none. It’s not even a very good story. I’m sure it was nothing really. But maybe it was something.
Look in the mirror. What do you see? I see me, but I can’t really see me. We’re all just meat robots walking around lost. But aren’t we more than the sum of that meat? Are we just a collection of neurons firing away in a preordained order that makes the meat move around? Or are we more than that? If you couldn’t see yourself in the mirror, wouldn’t you still be there, standing in front of it?
I don’t have a word for it. Some people call it a soul. I don’t know that I believe in that. But I have a lot of questions and I do wonder about it. It’s not really a big deal and I assign meaning to things that do not have any. But it’s something, isn’t it?
#14 – Random4, or more things I wonder about