When Mary, her husband, and their five boys moved in next door to my family, (I am one of 12 children), her home immediately became the gathering place for all of the 33 children who lived on our block. Everyone wanted to be over at Mary’s house.
My mom worked all day and when she came home she would often get drunk. I always felt good when I was over at Mary’s home. Mary was a great cook and her home was always filled with freshly baked cookies, cakes, cinnamon rolls, and homemade fudge. I can’t tell you how many times I would purposely wander next door to Mary’s to get an afternoon snack. There never was enough food at my home because my real mom would use it for booze, but I always knew there was something wonderful in the oven or on the table at Mary’s home. Mary would laugh, sit me down, and she would fill my plate with her latest creation.
Mary had always wanted a girl and my sisters and I and the other neighborhood girls became her daughters. She was an accomplished seamstress and would sew dresses, skirts, pajamas, blouses for us. She would cut and style and curl our hair when needed. She took me, along with other neighbor kids, to the YMCA on Friday nights with her boys to go swimming. During the summer she took us on picnics at the nearby park. Mary would let us tag along when she took her boys to the local pool on hot summer days and then get ice cream at the local Dairy Queen. She played all sorts of games with us like Spoon, Hearts, and board games like Monopoly and Risk. We played kickball in her backyard and softball in her front yard and Mary never seemed to mind that the grass quit growing.
After school, Mary helped us with our homework; we would sit down next to her boys at her kitchen table and she would help all of us. Over the years a well-worn path between our house and hers became the evidence of the deep love between our families.
Did I mention that Mary’s husband died when the boys were still very young? She lost the love of her life and she never remarried. Life was not easy then for her, but she never lost her smile, her hearty laugh and I never once heard her complain. She had to go to work to support her five boys, but she never gave up. Mary took a job at our school in the cafeteria. She still made sure we had enough to eat even when we didn’t have any money. Mary is 90 years young now and is still very active volunteering several days a week in the gift shop at one of our local hospitals. I often think of how different I might have turned out had it not been for the interest, time, and most of all, the love Mary showed me. Praise God, Mary’s door was never locked and neither was her heart.