Rainy days with Mrs. Jones

Standing in front of one of the smallest houses in our neighborhood, I waited for the school bus to show up…  

It was a flashback, prompted by the group of school kids huddled together in the very same spot.  I’m sure they don’t even notice the house they are standing in front of.  They surely know nothing of the woman that used to live in that little ‘dollhouse’ so many years ago. 

I remember that stormy day, when Mrs. Jones ventured down that long winding walkway.  There were no bushes or flower beds to block her view, only open lawns on each side of the path.  She had been watching me from her window, as I was drenched by the rain.  Halfway down the path she waved to me, “Come. Come!  Stand in my doorway.  When the bus comes you can run out.”  I didn’t know this woman, but her sweet elderly physique gave me no cause for concern.  She seemed genuine in her offering, and I was soaked, so I followed – make that ran – to her doorway.  Standing in the entranceway, I dripped puddles onto her floor.  No sooner did she disappear, she returned handing me a big towel for my hair.  I must have been around 10 years old at the time, not much of a conversationalist.  I stood in one spot, trying to dry the water dripping from my nose before it fell on her floor.  It was clear, this sweet little lady was thrilled to have been able to help. 

We watched from the doorway for the bus.  Just as the yellow flashed into sight, I bolted from the front door.  Mrs. Jones’s voice trailed behind, “Have a nice day.”  I didn’t turn back to see if she was waving, but I know she was.  From my seat on the bus, I waved to her.  Little did I know that smiling face, barely visible through the sheets of rain, was going to be a staple in my morning routine.

The next day she made the same offer, though it was only drizzling.  The offer was there the following day as well… it was sunny.   It turns out, it didn’t matter the weather.  She was happy for the company.  So was I.   I no longer needed an offer.  

That first day I stood in the doorway – in part to watch for the bus – in part because I was unsure of this ‘stranger’ and needed to be able to make a hasty exit.  (Which was never an issue.)

Looking back, I know Mrs. Jones was happy for the rain.  I picture her doing her own little rain dance, praying for the skies to send her new little friend into the haven of her home.  But she didn’t have to.  I was more than happy to visit with her.  In fact I got done early every morning so I had time to spend.  She made me feel special. 

If it rained, she greeted me with big fuzzy towels.  If it was snowing, hot chocolate or tea.  Whatever the weather, she always greeted me with a smile and eager conversation.  And then there was the welcoming hugs.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a smaller house.  On a day when we had time, and after we got to know each other, she gave me the nickel tour.  (or the 2-1/2 cent tour 😉  It was a real life dollhouse, with tiny rooms, and tiny appliances, and tiny everything.

Outside was quite the opposite.  Most of her ‘L’ shaped yard could not be seen from the street.  In fact, the side yard was so large, and oddly situated, that she never used it.  With her blessing, she allowed the man next door to plant a huge vegetable garden – which could be appreciated from her living room window.  The way she saw it, she had no need for the space or upkeep, and in turn was fine with ‘sharing.’  It was the neighborly thing to do.

On the complete other side of the house, was a very small yard.  Barely enough room for a small table and chairs.  It could have been a quaint space, however, she left it barren.  I understood why, as we stood there and a pear almost hit me in the head.  “What was that?”

She smiled and pointed to the neighbors massive – abundantly fruit bearing – pear tree, and then to the ground, to several of the already fallen fruit.  She didn’t get upset, in fact, she made lemonade out of lemons – – or sweet puree of stewed pears from her ‘littered’ yard.  Mrs. Jones had decided long ago she couldn’t fight the tree, and she wasn’t going to waste energy getting upset about it.   She just collected and collected, and cooked and cooked… and in her teeny-tiny refrigerator she stowed her rendition of applesauce made out of pears… yum.  

I was intrigued by the notion of cooking.  We collected a few pears on that day, but needed to wait for a few more to ripen and fall.  Once they did, I went to Mrs. Jones after school for my first cooking lesson.  

We stood in her dollhouse kitchen – bumping into each other as we reached for utensils.  Wearing her pretty apron, with frills along the hemline, she showed me how to wash, peal and cut the pears into even bits.  Maybe the smells were condensed due to the small sized space, but the aromas wafting off of that half-sized stove soaked through me.  It was amazing to me that a teakettle, and/or any other pan, could fit on the burners.   But they did, and we stirred the contents of that big pot until the pear puree resembled chunky applesauce.  

Of all the conversations Mrs. Jones and I had, I remember one most of all.  Sadly she had reached the point in her life, where people no longer trusted her to care for babies… or so she felt.  She just wanted to hold an infant one more time… but no one ‘allowed it.’  I am sure there was something behind the story as she told it.  Somewhere along the way someone must have told her ‘no.’  I didn’t see her as a risk to any person, young or old.  Wanting to gift her one last experience, I tried to think of someone I could introduce to her to fulfill her wish.  I thought of my younger sisters, but they were too old.  My cousin Dawn was younger…  I thought about her – but didn’t think my Aunt would allow me to ‘farm’ her child out to the hugging needs of my Mrs. Jones… quite understandable.  I wished I could have been enough for my friend.  I didn’t see her as this incapable old lady… I saw her as someone who shared her time with me, her life, her smiles, and now her disappointments.

The sad day came, when Mrs. Jones passed away.  

It would be my first funeral.  I really didn’t know how I was supposed to behave.  

After my bus stop was moved, our interactions waned.  I had not seen her in a while and immediately felt waves of guilt.  How was I supposed to say goodbye?  I didn’t want to.  I wanted to go back in time, just enough to tell her what she meant to me.  

As my mother told me of her passing, she handed me the little flower arrangement I had made Mrs. Jones one Christmas.  Someone took it from her house, thinking I would want it back.  The day I gave it to her, we sat in her living room, as I nervously presented it.  Was she going to like it?  It was hand crafted out of blue pipe cleaners and paisley blue fabric with plaid inlay.  Of course, green pipe cleaners were used for leaves and stems.  Each flower was shaped just how I wanted it, as well as propped into position.  A miniature wicker basket, with little handles, held the bouquet.  I thought it would be a perfect fit for her tiny living room.  Handing it to her, she didn’t like it…. she loved it.  Holding it in my hands, now that she’s gone, seemed so wrong.

At the funeral, family members came up to me.  Mrs. Jones had spoken fondly of me… they knew me, though I knew none of them.  It made me feel a strange kind of happy as they shared her words – to know she loved me, but then… to know she is gone. 

Wandering that adult filled room, I held her flower basket.  When my turn came to approach the casket, I set that flower arrangement by her side………. To this day, a piece of me remains with her always. 

Leatha Jones 

March 15, 1895 ~ January 1, 1978

Happy Birthday!

You are still thought about!!

Especially on rainy school days…

XO

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