“MARION AND ELWOOD”
Merriam-Webster dictionary: neigh – bor
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English nEahgebur (akin to Old High German nAhgibur); akin to Old English nEah (near) and gebur (dweller)
1: one living or located near another
2: FELLOW MAN
A NeighborStory (not a typo, but a story of memories)
Marion and Elwood Draper lived next to me in my little 1950s-era home out west. It was a very modest but well-kept neighborhood, and as long as I live, I will be grateful for these two people who enriched my life beyond description in such simple, unobtrusive ways.
In 1998, looking to quickly purchase a home…walking into the little house, I knew it was “it”. I had very little time to settle, as many of you know how corporate America functions. You get the promotion, you move YESTERDAY.
When I brought my mother to visit later that spring, she identified why I felt such a connection to this little house. It was almost identical to the post WWII GI home she and Dad and I (as a newborn) inhabited – a little neighborhood of rows and rows of modest homes beckoning soldiers with young families, and a passion for normalcy. My father was a disabled veteran left with one lung and 3 enormous surgical scars over his heart…a walking miracle after a machine gun in Italy made him a target.
But I believe there was another reason, an intangible one that was Marion and Elwood Draper.
Marion was in her late 70s; Elwood was early 80s, yet you would never imagine they had lived that many years. They were so sharp, so conversant about current things…and I think I made the connection with Elwood first. We were in competition for “best yard”. I used all the Black and Decker trimming, edging, whacking toys; Elwood had manual tools that did the job equally well - under the tutelage of his own hands, of course. Marion loved gardening, also, and taught me how to tend my newly acquired rose bushes.
My property also had a plum, crabapple, and peach tree that needed attention; I was determined to make them flourish. Elwood coached me every step of the way, and after a couple of seasons of nourishment, they all were thriving with a multitude of fruit – so much so Elwood then had to teach me how to “cull” the trees to get less, but much bigger fruit. Peaches are my favorite fruit, so we spent a lot of time in that tree. It was next to a concrete driveway almost “smack up next to” the garage – the man who sprayed for peach borer marveled at how much fruit that tree bore, despite its poor location. I owed that to Elwood. After the third season, he insisted on climbing up in that tree to pick the ripe peaches and I would stand below as he gently dropped them into my waiting hands. The tree was producing several bushels of big, sweet, juicy fruit every September.
Best of all, Marion and Elwood were so interesting. They became not only my friends, but also a second set of loving parents. Sometimes we sat in their tiny kitchen at the bay window with a view of the Wasatch mountains, over “yogi tea” and munching on something divine Marion had cooked or baked, and talk for hours about “stuff”. They had studied “existentialism” for 25 years, articulate and wise and intelligent. Though Elwood had stopped skiing when he reached his mid-70s, he loved watching me pack up the car to go schussing in my 188s. And as I love to cook, Marion and I were forever bringing “a little something” to each other, even tromping through heavy snow to do so.
When my mother subsequently visited, upon hearing Elwood’s organ music floating across the driveway, we delighted in going over to sing to his melodies – Mom is a former soloist in a traveling orchestra and on the radio in her single years. And Elwood knew all those old songs - she was in heaven! And so was I.
I left in 1998 to come to Atlanta for that promotion; though I have adorable neighbors here, I miss them to this day as my fingers touch the keys and reminisce.
A couple of years after my departure, Elwood turned 90. One day he didn’t feel like doing the yard; it wasn’t long before he was gone. The other neighbors there knew I would want to know and let me know, unfortunately after the funeral. After that, Marion was not the same. Not long after, she fell ill with lung cancer, having never touched tobacco in her life; she had been exposed to asbestos many years previous in an old office building.
I had to see her, and when I did shortly thereafter, she was attached to an oxygen tank, having difficulty breathing but so happy to see me. We talked again for as long a time as she had strength and voice. It was painful to have to stop when she was no longer able to talk. Not long after that, Marion joined her beloved Elwood.
I talk to them silently every time I’m working in the yard. Still. They will always be my beloved and cherished neighbors.