Sandra and I have lived across the street from John and Marge for more than 16 years. They seemed such a nice couple. We waved and smiled at one another from time to time – when one of them went outside to fetch the mail or water the flowers as one of us drove by, for example.
And once, many years ago, when I locked myself out of the house after Sandra had left for her teaching job, they let me come in and use their phone. We all had a good laugh about that as I was still wearing my pajamas.
Once, when I was hitting golf balls over at the church yard, I met one of their sons who was visiting from New York. As I remember it, we had a brief political discussion as elections were close at the time. Nothing memorable was said, I guess, as I don’t remember any details of that conversation.
And the other day, I ran into Marge in Publix while shopping for groceries. We said hi, talked about this and that, and wished each other well as neighbors do.
I may have had half a dozen conversations with John over the years – if that. I remember he told me he used to live on a much bigger lake up north. Our Lake Gibson was just a puddle compared with that lake, he said. And we talked about our health issues – heart, kidney, joints, the kind of ailments that afflict us as we age.
On Sunday evenings, we would see cars in their driveway and along the road next to ther home, and several silhouetted heads would be visible through their front window. Their kids and possibly grandkids, we guessed, as Marge once told us two of her children lived in this area and that was why they moved here.
Last week, as I was driving by their home on the way to golf, one of their sons waved me down. I rolled down the passenger-side window and he thrust his head inside the car. For some unknown reason, I can still see his bushy, white moustache in my mind’s eye. It was the son I had met earlier.
“You know the people who live here?” he asked.
“John and Marge? Of course,” I responded.
“Yes, he’s not doing so well.”
I asked if John’s heart was giving trouble again, and the son said no, it was his kidneys that had shut down. John was in “palliative care,” the son added.
I asked how old John was and the son said he was 86, “almost 87.”
Just five years ahead of me, I realized with a shock.
“How is Marge taking it?” I asked.
“Well, you know, it’s rough on her. Very rough.”
“I am so sorry,” I said. “Tell her my thoughts and prayers are with her.”
“I will,” he said. “Thanks.”
And I drove off to my golf date.
When I told Sandra about the encounter, she said it was so sad that we hadn’t been more neighborly. We should’ve invited them for dinner or something, she said. But, I said, they didn’t invite us, either. Perhaps they wanted it that way. Their lives seemed quite full without us.
Last night, as I was eating a mango after supper, there was a knock on the front door. I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a towel to wipe my hands before opening the door. Once again, I was in my pajamas.
Marge and her son – the son who had stopped me as I was driving by – stood on the front porch.
“John passed away on Tuesday,” Marge said in a tiny voice. She seemed very, very small, as if shrnken by grief. “The viewing will be at Lake Gibson Methodist at 3 o’clock tomorrow and the service at 4 p.m.”
All I could say was, “Oh Marge, I am so sorry. So very sorry…”
I couldn’t think of anything else, so I just kept saying how sorry I was, over and over. What could I do? I couldn’t ask them in. I was in my pajamas, with a towel iny hands and the dinner dishes on the table. I watched them walk away, down the path and across the street.
Then I turned off the porch light and shut the door.
I told Sandra, and suggested she check the local newspaper for John’s obituary. Then I realized that I didn’t know his last name.
At least I know the time and place of his funeral, so I can go and say goodbye later on. Marge would appreciate that, I’m sure.