We sit around the table eating ice-cream cake. Mr. Lee and Miss Norma have trekked across their front lawn to join us for Stuart's birthday.
Mr. Lee is an elfin looking man with an easy smile. I cannot guess his age. Old would be a close estimate. He still works full time as a court reporter. He mows his lawn with a push mower and saws wood for the fireplace with a chainsaw. He walks on his treadmill at two in the morning when he has trouble sleeping.
Mr. Lee is walking history. Listening to him counts as school. He worked as a horse exerciser when he was twelve. During the depression, he finished his last two years of high school while living and working full time at a horse barn. He laughs as he tells us that people liked to visit upwind of him. He wanted to make a career out of racehorses. His dad discouraged him because racing was controlled by the mob. Instead, he slept in an Illinois recruiting office for two weeks waiting until he turned seventeen. At seventeen he was old enough to serve in the navy. He served on the Atlantic and Pacific fronts during WWII. The officers he served under as a court reporter liked him so much that when they were transferred, he went with them. This meant a few years in Hawaii. He recorded several big trials including when the Missouri ran aground in the Chesapeake Bay in the early fifties. He retired from the navy before I was born! The kids are most impressed that Mr. Lee knows shorthand.
The chain link fence that divides our yards separates our dogs but allows us to visit. I used to check wunderground.com for the weather. Now I just ask Miss Norma. She gives me the five-day forecast. Several times a day, Jill and Jackie O., a long-haired Dachshund and a Jack Russell Terrier, dash out on their lawn. They bark vigorously. They are heralds running before royalty. Their message...Miss Norma is outside! The children drop what they are doing and rush out. They form a line along the fence. Miss Norma is a good listener. The children entrust their hearts to her. They sit in her lawn chairs and visit. They come home with stories about her animals and the places she has lived. Many conversations at the dinner table begin with, "Miss Norma said..."
Miss Norma watches our animals from time to time. Our children bring her warm coffee cake and cinnamon rolls. John pokes through her shelves and brings home National Geographic magazines from her monstrous collection.
Robert Frost writes, good fences make good neighbors. In our case it is true.