When we moved to Casa de Canterbury in the summer of 2009, I was not a happy camper. The house had four gigantic white columns on the front porch that I felt made it look like a Tara wannabe from Gone With the Wind which wasn’t a statement either T or I wanted to make as our first impression with company. But the vicissitudes of life, as my daddy would say, brought us to the intersection of Canterbury Road and Manning Avenue; and we moved our belongings and four dogs to the house we would call home.
The columns are still there, but their visual impact has been lessened over the past seven years with our attempts to get people to lower their gaze to the steps and porch with flowers, rocking chairs, benches, an old school desk and black bird sculptures on the porch. I’m not sure if it works for our visitors, but I know it helped me adjust. I have made my peace with the house because Teresa’s touches can make any place homey, and the dogs and I gradually settled in together in harmony with each other and our home.
One of the unexpected bonuses we’ve found has been our neighbors across the street on Canterbury and behind our house on Manning Avenue. We have seen Debbie and Mark’s children marry and have grandchildren that they adore. We saw Norma and Alan’s two boys play soccer in their yard when the boys were in middle school and high school. Now we’ve seen them graduate from high school and leave home for college. The cycle of life passes before my window in my office on the second floor, and I like my neighbors on Canterbury Road.
The neighbors behind us on Manning Avenue are also special. Monroe and his son Anthony have the most wonderful flowers every year – Monroe, a stately African-American veteran about my age, tries to help me do better with my back yard which is always a disaster. Last year we had a contest to see who could keep their flowers alive and beautiful for the longest time. Monroe won, of course. Not even close. Anthony and I share a passion for sports and politics – topics we love to talk about when we gossip.
Dorothy lives next door to Monroe and Anthony. She is an elderly tiny frail African-American woman who always has a smile and a hug for me. She, too, loves to have flowers growing in her yard and makes a point every year to pull any weeds brave enough to grow next to her lilies and daffodils. I have seen her many times laboring in her yard with her back bent to hoe the weeds she calls her devils. Dorothy still lives alone, but her family takes turns staying with her now. She has a dog she named Sheeva which she claimed she named for me. Spike loves Sheeva and waits for her to make an escape from Dorothy’s yard to his fence.
Last week on my birthday I walked over to invite Dorothy to stop by the house for a piece of birthday cake and champagne later that evening. I knocked on her door and waited for her to open it. Sometimes it takes a while because she has days when she moves at a snail’s pace. I have those days, too, so I don’t mind the wait.
She came out of her door and we visited on her front porch. I told her today is my 70th. birthday and I want you to come over for a piece of cake and champagne around 7 o’clock. Her eyes lit up and she smiled at me while she gave me a big hug and kiss.
“Happy Birthday,” she said. “And would you believe it? Yesterday was my birthday, too.”
“You’re kidding me,” I exclaimed. “Well Happy Birthday to you, too! How old were you?”
“Eighty-seven,” she said. “And I’m running to a hundred.”
” What? To a hundred? Really, Dorothy?”
“Yes,” she nodded emphatically. “And I want you to run with me. I want you to stay right behind me. Don’t you try to get ahead of me. We’re running together.”
I wish everyone could reach the age of 70 years, but not everyone is so fortunate. My dad wasn’t. Teresa’s mother wasn’t. They didn’t live long enough to have family and friends say exceedingly kind things about them in person and certainly not long enough to have heart-felt posts in cyberspace about their birthday on social media. I don’t often use the word “blessed,” but I really can’t think of a word that describes my feelings this week any better. Fortunate. Content. Peaceful. Lucky. Grateful. Blessed.
Running to a hundred with Dorothy? I doubt it. But I wouldn’t bet against Dorothy, if I were you.