The Old Lady Next Door: 53 and 3/4 years with my 84 and 3/4 year old Mom



There is an old lady who lives next door to me.

For how long I can’t recall but for the past 53 years she has been a constant reminder of the amazing life I have had the honor of living.

She is 84 and ¾ years old.  That ¾ years is important to her.  She’s not 84.  And, when she was 84 ½ years old she wasn’t 84.

She was 84 ½ years old.

Now she is 84 and ¾ years old.

She has nine kids of her own.  Six boys and three girls.

Along the way those 9 children have given her 18 grandchildren.

Who, in turn, have given her 7 great grandchildren.

She reminds one of those grandchildren that there will soon be 8 great grandchildren.

Each one of my 53 years has not come and gone without some significant event in my life.

Nor have I ever forgotten in those 53 years on my birthday to silently thank two people and one God.

The one God is obvious.

The one person is myself for remembering to avoid simple causes of death such as walking in front of a fast-moving train, getting caught in a broken escalator and, up until a recent episode last year involving a pistachio, avoiding an embarrassing death that will cause those that know me to say, “Yeah, it was freaky.  Who dies that way?”

The other person is my Mom.

The old lady that lives next door to me.

My Mom goes by a lot of names to those that know here.

There is Bep to her brothers and sisters.  There is Betty to her friends.

There is Mother to her children when she annoys or shocks them.

To my own children, who can’t really seem to remember her name, she is “Grandma from Next Door.”

To my children’s great joy they also have another Grandma who lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

You guessed it.

Her name is “Grandma from Green Bay.”

My Mom and I have had a lot of adventures in my 53 years and her 84 and ¾ years.

We’ve worked in the same company.

We’ve been on political campaigns together.  We’ve gone to a President’s Inauguration.

We’ve gotten stuck in snowstorms in a car so small and packed with children that it would make Clowns cry.

When I was 13 years old and running a Mobil Gas Station in Fairmount, North Dakota it was my Mom who would come up every lunch hour during the school year and turn on the crockpot.

She would stay there and sell hot dogs and bbq sandwiches to school kids who would walk the block from school to eat them, along with chips and a Pic-a-Pop or Pop Shoppe soda.

That we would all stand around and smoke cigarettes in front of her seems totally politically incorrect today.

It wasn’t 40 years ago.  It just was what it was.

My Mom was the Mom who would slog outside to pick up wood to put into the furnace to try to heat the house where my Dad removed the oil furnace.

To this day I don’t understand why he did that.  For the entire time we lived in Fairmount, North Dakota the house was never warm in the winter and never cool in the summer.

She was the one who would be greeted by the Dog in the morning who had collected some dead animal as a gift for her.  Only to shoo him away with a broom or some other wave of her hands and arms.

My Mom and I once, many years ago, had a chance to go to a fancy fundraiser for then Congressman Gerry Sikorski at a fancy house in the Western Suburbs.  I remember pulling into the driveway of the huge house that was filled with expensive cars while our barely running, dented and exhaust spewing vehicle meekly found a place to park.

She didn’t flinch.  She got out and proceeded to charm everyone she met.

First, by introducing herself.

Second, by asking the person who they were and what they did.

Third, by letting everyone know, whether they asked or not, that she had nine children.

This past weekend at the Spare Key Groove Gala I was reminded of all of those life journeys I have had with the old lady who lives next door to me as I watched her greet untold numbers of our guests who arrived to register.

First, by introducing herself.

Second, by asking the person who they were and what they did.

Third, by letting everyone know, whether they asked or not, that she had nine children.

A running joke among my brothers and sisters is that each of us are the favorite of those nine children.

While it is a settled matter that the favorite is, of course, me – there remains some difference of opinion.

Which is always settled by my Mom saying she loves each of us equally.

That’s not true but who am I to call my Mom a liar?

As I said, I can’t remember how long the old lady has lived next door to me.

I remember that it has been as least as long ago as when my children used to climb the fence to talk to her when she was in her backyard and they would come scurrying back saying, “Grandma says you should make a door in the fence so she can come over and talk to us.”

I never made a door in the fence.  She always figures out a way to get into my yard and my house anyhow.

Many mornings in my life next door to the old lady begin with a phone call where the first words out of her mouth are usually something like this when I answer:

“Oh, you’re home?”

“Say, do you know (fill in the blank with the name of someone she met at Lunds)?”

“Erich, I have a favor.”

Or, there is an email that arrives that starts with:

“….good morning….do you know (fill in the blank with a question)…I am going to a play with a friend today….your (insert brother or sister’s name) is coming over to have lunch with me….I have had a great and amazing life…xoxoxox”

I went over and chatted with the old lady next door yesterday.  She is 84 and ¾ years old.

She might as well be 31 and ¾ years old.  As young as she was the day I came into this world.

She’s gotten a little shorter.  Her knees a little crankier.  And, there’s an extra wrinkle here and there that ultimately comes with age.

But, she’s as sharp as a tack.  As sneaky as she has ever been.  And, there’s no lack of a zest for life that has been at the core of every single day of her 84 and ¾ years on this planet.

As I was leaving she said something along the lines of “Well, any day now I am going to be 85 years old.  I hope I make it.”

I have no doubt that the old lady next door will make it and make it a lot more years after that.

Maybe long enough for me to finally to put that door in the fence for her.

I’ll let her know next year when she turns 85 and ¾ years old.

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