When I was five years old, my first friend, Laureen Yankovitch moved away. She left because her mother died and her father took the children to be cared for by relatives. Mr. and Mrs. Smith bought the house.
Mr. Smith died during my childhood, but mean old Mrs. Smith took many, many years to go away. A a screaming, ranting woman charged the line of five year olds eating raspberries from the bushes that lined every back yard when she moved in. The rake brandishing, screaming demon told us not to eat her berries; she would poison them. At our next encroachment we learned the berries indeed had been poisoned and we could go home and die. So, we quit eating her berries.
The house she bought had a tidy Italian vegetable garden but a back yard barren of grass as two small children of the house and all their neighborhood friends ran, slid, rolled and tore through. Mrs. Smith announced that such a fine Italian gardener as had been in this house would have left fine flower beds; because there were none, all the neighbors had stolen the flowers.
The neighbors were dumfounded. I was five, but I remember my father finding a large cutting gone from his August lily; it was planted in the yard next door. Mrs. Cole, our neighbor on the other side, had a dense rock garden that suddenly sported large holes and missing chunks of hens and chickens, pinks, and tiger lilies. Plants up and down the street went missing, and between spring and fall, Mrs. Smith grew a lovely back yard of flowers. Everything disappeared in the middle of the night, and no one caught Mrs. Smith at it.
No one accosted Mrs. Smith, but no one befriended her, either. On the whole, neighbors let it run its course and pass. There is a limited amount of room in a forty foot lot and eventually she had to quit. Then the guarding began. She was especially bellicose toward my parents and the little widow who lived on the other side of her, Mrs. Reich. Dad leaving for work in the morning would be confronted by the rake brandishing woman on the other side of the fence, warning him not to take her flowers, or come in her yard.
After dad was gone and Jan and Tom were married and living there, Tom’s encounters with Mrs. Smith were increasingly bizarre. On his way to his truck in the morning Tom might find Mrs. Smith aiming the garden hose at him. Mom quit weeding her side of the fence to avoid being hit by Mrs. Smith.
And then one day Mrs. Smith was gone. Jan inquired, learned she was hospitalized with a terminal illness. After considering some, Jan sent her a plant with her best wishes. Mrs. Smith called. “Why did you send this plant?”
Jan said she was sorry to learn Mrs. Smith wasn’t able to be out tending the plants she loved and she’d sent one to have in the hospital. “But you hate me,” Mrs. Smith said. Jan said she hated no one. At the end of the call Mrs. Smith said to Jan, “We could always have been friends.” She lived a month or so from the time she came home, and she and Jan were friends for the rest of her life. True story.