Sunday, February 7, 2016

And So This is Helen

Inspired by reality.


The doorbell rang, followed by knocking.   
Jase popped his head up. 
"Who that, Mama?"  
"Shh," I whispered.  "Lie down."
 I was leaning over the crib rail rubbing his back, trying to quiet him for his nap.  
I heard Don open the front door.  
Speaking softly, he said, "No, we can't right now, maybe later."
After another few minutes of soothing murmurs and comforting strokes, Jase finally fell asleep.
I tiptoed out of the room, softly closing the door. 
"What did Helen want?"  I asked. 
"She invited us over to see her Christmas tree."
Helen lives next door to us.   She is a tiny woman, barely five feet tall.   She wears her wiry steel gray hair in a bun on the top of her head.  When she speaks, her dark eyes dart from side to side seemingly  in concert with her flying hands. 
We've been in our house for 11 years.  We moved in on a hot muggy August day.  Helen came over that day to introduce herself and welcome us to the neighborhood.  
She told us that she had lived in her house for 40 years.  We found out that she was 73 and caring for her ill husband.  She had two sons, one was married and had two children, the other single.
"I don't think he will ever marry," she said.
When she began to reminisce about the original owners of our house, Don politely interrupted her by saying that we had to get back to our move. 
With three kids and full-time jobs, our schedules leave us little free time to be socially engaged with  our neighbors. 
Life eases up a little in the summer, though and Helen and I will occasionally chat when we are outside puttering around in our yards.  Little by little I found out the history of our neighborhood.
Helen's yards, front and back, are neatly kept.  She certainly has a green thumb.  Her hydrangeas are spectacular and her many rose bushes are beautiful. In the spring, she would always tell me to feel free to pick the lilacs that lean over into our yard.  She proudly told me, more than once, I might add, that she did all the grooming of her yard by herself.  
Three years after we first moved in, Helen's husband passed away.  I only found out about it the spring after he died.  I saw her in the yard one day and waved.  When she came over to the fence, I asked how her husband was.   That's when she told me that he died two days before Christmas.  How sad, I thought and I felt a twinge of regret over not making more of an effort to keep in touch with her. 
And that summer I only saw her once, the time she came over to tell me about her husband.  I began to notice that her son would come once a week to cut the grass.
I wondered if she was alright, but never found the time to check in on her.
The following summer, Helen began to come out again.  She seemed frailer and walked with a cane.  She told me that she had stumbled and fallen while trimming her rose bush the previous July and had broken her ankle.
"I was laid up for the next six months.  I couldn't even trim my Christmas tree or put out any of my decorations," she said.
I remember thinking that I really should make more of an effort with Helen.
But, life continued to get in the way, I guess.  We were so busy.  The years passed by.
This past summer, Helen told me about her son, "You know the one who comes to help me out," she explained.  
"Well, he got married in April and moved to the west coast,"  she said.
She looked sad and a little forlorn.  Her usual animated way of speaking was subdued.
I wondered about her other son and her grandchildren.  I've never seen them come to visit.  I didn't feel right about asking her, though.
We spoke now and again as usual and the summer passed and our lives became overwhelming, as they normally did.
It was unusual for Helen to come to our door.  Actually, I don't ever recall her doing it.  I thought it strange, really that she still had her tree up.  That day, the day she knocked on our door, was the Sunday, two weeks after Christmas.   Helen was now 85 years old.   It was the first time in eleven years that she ever invited us to come into her house.
I felt a strong urge.  The sensation was as though someone was pulling my hand, leading me next door.  I knew I had to go.
I called up to my eleven-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son.
"Come on down, guys.  Get your coats on.  We're going next door to visit Miss Helen."
They groaned and complained.
"We're watching a movie.  Can't you go without us?"
I was insistent.  "Let's go!"
We walked up the stone steps which led to her front door and I rang the bell.
I waited a few more minutes and rang the bell again.
I heard her calling, "I'll be right there."
She led us through an entrance hall and into her living room.  I was astonished at what I saw.
Her tree, an artificial one, nearly touched the ceiling.   There wasn't a bare spot.  Every branch had, at least, two or more ornaments on it.
As I looked more closely, I noticed that the decorations appeared to be hand made.
I turned to look at her.
She smiled and said, "I made each and every one myself."
I made the appropriate admiring sounds and told her how beautiful they were.  And they were!
She had baked a tray of cookies and while we sat at her kitchen table, with tea for us and hot cocoa for the kids,  I realized that she looked happier than I had seen her look in a long time.
She told me that it was the first time in her life that she spent Christmas alone.
"I wanted someone to see my tree."
She thanked me for coming.
That day, the day Helen came knocking at our door was five months ago.
A few days ago I noticed a for sale sign in Helen's front yard.
This afternoon the doorbell rang, followed by knocking.
Don had taken the kids to the movies.  I was alone in the house.
I peeked out the window to see who it was.  A man was standing on our porch trying to hold onto a large white cardboard box in one hand while he reached out to knock a second time with his other hand.  The box was tied up like a Christmas present with green ribbon and a big red bow.
He looked familiar.  I opened the door.  He said, "Mrs. Barnette?"
"Yes?" I said hesitantly.
"I'm John."  "Helen's son?"
"Oh, yes."  I said.
"Uh, well..."
"Is Helen ok?"
"Oh, you haven't heard.  My mother passed away three weeks ago."
"She left a note."  He held out the box and said. "She wanted you to have these."


  1. Oh such a sad story, very well written!


  2. How very sad. But very true. Sometimes life gets in the way of keeping up with the neighbors.

    1. We live in a senior community, which can be quite transient. I know my immediate neighbours on either side, but not too many more.

  3. A beautiful and thoughtful story, LyndaGrace - it brought tears to my eyes. Are you entering the A to Z Challenge this year? Special Teaching at Pempi’s Palace

    1. Thank you. I am most likely going to participate in the A to Z Challenge. I hope you are too?