As I lay in bed that evening, I pondered one of my working theories about people and personalities. Some people are like the beautiful hard, fruit candies of my childhood—with liquid centers of pure flavorful goodness inside. This is where the best part of a person resides. A “hard-candy personality” usually yields the most amazing life flavors when the outer shell finally gives way. I went to bed wondering what my new neighbor’s story might be.
Having adjusted to the altitude, we settled into a new routine. And, we started to bump into our nearest neighbor, Martha, with greater frequency. As it turned out, Martha lived alone with three large cats and, according to her own report, had gone through as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor. Truth be known, I do not remember who broke the ice first, but pretty soon I was being welcomed over to Martha’s place for an hour or so of girl time on weekends, to simply lay in a recliner, pet a cat or watch some television. (We do not own a television. And, all families and family members sometimes need mini-breaks from chores and big personalities to remain strong and diplomatic.)
Our relationship with Martha unfolded from there. Martha and I went for rides in her giant eight-cylinder truck to the local greenhouse. We both benefited from breathing the moist greenhouse air, petting the resident cats, lazing about the only koi pond in town. It was after these outings that Martha showed me the best local haunts for real Mexican food.
With Martha, we hosted impromptu holiday dinners, inviting the neighboring residents who were often miles from relatives. We planned and cooked for picnics, sharing stories about the times, people and circumstances that were the best in our lives. In essence, we formed a new extended family with our fellow residents. Martha served as the primary host, always preparing the party’s main dish. She offered no-nonsense wisdom and life-experience straight from her heart.
Perhaps the most amazing gift we received, as a family of three, was the unbridled generosity that was at the core of Martha’s being. We often returned home to find a huge pot of still warm stew on the porch. Saturday mornings Martha delivered fresh, whole fruit pies. There were hot biscuits, pumpkin bars and an amazing variety of other delectable dishes made by Martha, who had found a recipe she simply had to try. We relished our roles as official, new-recipe (or tried-and-true recipe) taste-testers. And, no matter how many times we helped her shovel her truck out of the snow or offered a “reciprocal” dish of one, modest serving, there was no way we could ever hope to fully honor the natural generosity in Martha’s heart.
The years have erased the details about which of our households received the nudge to move first, but start packing our households we did. One day, as Martha and I were swapping boxes, to ensure that we each had the sizes we needed for our independent moves, she looked up at me saying with an unusually pained expression on her face, “I want to tell you I am sorry.”
“For what?” I looked up incredulously, “You haven’t done anything except be kind and generous toward us over the past five years.”
“I am sorry for not signing on as an emergency contact for your child after you first arrived. I didn’t know you. I just could not take on one more thing.”
“Oh, Martha, no apology is necessary. Everything has been forgiven. You have been an exceptional neighbor—every step of the way. Put that out of your mind and move forward in peace.”