The woman’s back is bent, her face is smiling, and her hand is raised to catch my attention as she steps out of her house. I am walking the dogs. She says…a whole bunch of things drowned out by a nearby recycling truck. I stop and take the headphones out of my ears. I hold up a finger to say “just a minute” and point at the truck. She waits, arm raised, clearly with something to say. I wonder if today will be any different. After the noise moves along, she says, “I just wanted to say that I so enjoyed seeing you with your son this weekend. I just think that is so great. He’s a beautiful boy.” I smile. No, not different.
I used to walk the kids in the morning all of the time, and I would occasionally see her wave to us from inside her house. She and the man (who I assume is her husband) are avid gardeners. She tends a group of fruit trees in the front yard, while he focuses on exotic-looking cactus after exotic-looking cactus along the side of their house. The kids are always threatening to prick themselves on one of those cactus quills. The danger is so exciting. The couple both look to be well over 70, maybe over 80. Despite enthusiastic waves from inside, she has never come out to say hi to the kids. Instead, she’s made a habit, a day or so after she sees me with the kids, of coming out as I walk by with just the dogs, always to say how much she enjoys seeing me walk by with Cory and Fisher, that she thinks “that’s just great,” and that the kids are beautiful. Although I am curious to know more about her, she usually rushes right back inside before I can get much of a “thank you” out.
Our only extended conversation happened once when I came along while she was already out in her front yard, standing agitated by a ladder opened next to a large apricot tree. I was concerned that a pretty thin, frail elderly woman, with such a bent torso, should be climbing a ladder, but she launched (without saying hello) into a concern about her apricot tree. She observed that where her peach and plum trees were budding, the apricot tree wasn’t. It looked dead. The mild winter had done it no favors, she told me, definitely expected to reduce the load of apricots for the year, but for such a mature tree to suddenly die, she just didn’t understand it, how it could happen so quickly, without warning. Not being an expert on apricot trees, I made some reassuring sounds, at which point she asked why I hadn’t been walking by with the kids as much anymore. I explained that they had started transitional kindergarten this past fall. So, school prevented morning walks. She then very kindly explained that “homeschooling” was the answer to that. I wasn’t exactly sure whether she meant not rushing kindergarten or true homeschooling. She explained that she kept her kids home with her “for years,” and now one had graduated from law school while the other had graduated from MIT. See, so what kids need is more time at home with their parents. They can learn so much around the house rather than sitting at desks too early. In any case, she assured me that she missed seeing us walk by as much. She really missed it. Then, she reached her hand up the apricot tree and said, “I guess I’m gonna have to replace this tree. I sure don’t like the idea of replacing such a big one, but I might have to.” I replied, “Well, I hope not. I love seeing your trees bloom.” She seemed lost staring up at her tree. After a few awkward seconds, I wished her good day.
The noisy truck moving further down her street yesterday morning, I respond, “Thanks so much. It’s good to get out walking with the kids and the dogs.” Hand dropping, body turning, still smiling, she says, “Well, I do enjoy seeing them. I just think that is so great. It’s been too long.” I was about to note the fledgling buds on her apricot tree working hard to catch up to the other trees blooming nearby: it hadn’t died after all. But, she was already back inside.
She seems content to wave from her window when I have the kids and to come out for a quick pleasantry when I don’t. So, I will be, too.