The lady that lived next door to me when I was very young grew rose bushes on all sides of her house; she had a large vegetable garden in the right corner of her backyard and little white poodles. She had a heavy french accent and flipped back and forth from french to English without realizing it. Her children were grown and gone when my family moved in and she took to me the way she would to her own grandchildren years later. She kept me when my mom was out and sometimes when she was home. She allowed me to come and play with her “dollies”. These “dollies” were precious hand-painted porcelain dolls she brought to the states from France. They were beautiful and probably priceless. My mom says her heart rate used to pick up to an unhealthy rate when she saw me winging about the house with one of those dolls loosely clutched in a sticky hand. The expected shatter and scatter of porcelain never came. They somehow survived where so many other toys perished.
Madeline used to pay me for catching japanese beetles off her rose bushes. A penny a beetle. My brother and I used to catch them in mason jars half full of water and leave them to boil on the picnic table in the summer sun.
She taught me french. Mom says I used to come home for dinner and I’d ask for ketchup or salt in french as smoothly as I did in English.
Once my parents were divorced and my family scattered I went back to visit her every couple years. It was impossible for me to turn my back on that kind of love. Madeline always put down whatever she was doing, hugged me and welcomed me in to her life and kitchen, once again. She’d pull out pictures of her children and grandchildren and we’d talk for an hour or more about where everyone in our families was. She was always grateful for the visit and sorry to see me go.
The last time I saw her was three years ago. She was tiny. She told my sister Julie and I that she had stomach cancer. I could do no better than to sit in her kitchen, familiar as my own, and cry.
Christmas morning, Madeline died. I hear her family was with her and she went peacefully. Her children have no doubt begun and possibly finished packing up the house she lived in for 40 plus years, raised her children in, brought grandchildren home to, and helped raise and teach french to one curly headed neighbor child.
My mom gave me the news about two weeks ago. I’ve thought of her nearly every day since.
I hope her memories of me were as clear and full of love as mine are of her.