Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Platinum Beehive and a Pair of Wings

Mr. and Mrs. L were the retired couple that lived next door to us. They probably bought their home and had moved in shortly after it was originally built in the fifties. Both of them were in their eighties by the time we had become their neighbors six years ago.

No matter the decade, past or current, Mrs. L was always conspicuous by her tall, platinum blond beehive hairdo. When a Cadillac drove through our quiet streets around 4:00 pm in the afternoon, you knew that Mr. & Mrs. L were going out to dinner. The telltale beehive gave them away. Even in warm weather, when she was out in the yard wearing bright pink shorts and a sleeveless floral top, the eye was drawn first to the flaxen bouffant that had the same appealing shine as old fashioned ribbon candy.

Mostly, we spotted that albino cotton candy on the hottest days of the year, when Mrs. L would be sitting in the above-ground pool next door. She would sit there, quietly cooling off, with a pair of butterfly frame sunglasses beneath that enormous beehive so that we were never sure if she was looking at us or dozing off.

But there was no blond beehive outdoors last summer. The pool was first drained and then suddenly gone, one day. Safety bars were added on the wall above the two steps to the front door entrance. Mr. L fell and broke a hip but he refused to remain an invalid for long. He was stubborn about his independence, and once a week he continued to drag the garbage cans out to the curb before slowly making his way up the driveway and back into the house, through the garage.

There were other changes. The camping trailer that had been in their driveway also disappeared. After the holidays there was a garage sale. The garbage cans made it to the curb only now and then, not every week.

Finally, the outside of the house was painted before a realtor's sign was put up on the front lawn. Another neighbor told me that both Mr. & Mrs. L had been put into a nursing home as they were no longer able to care for themselves or for each other. Mrs. L had gotten Alzheimer's, it was said.

In the nursing home, Mr. and Mrs. L had already been placed in separate rooms before she passed away. Her body was brought to Mr. L's room so that he could say his goodbyes to her.

And it broke my heart a little bit to hear about it.

Mrs. L was such a delightful, sweet lady. She would light up with a friendly smile when I would say hi to her at the market and remind her who I was. She would tell Domestic Partner, much to his irritation, what a nice son he has, even though I am only seven years younger than him.

Mrs. L told me that she had raised her family in the house next to us, that their backyard had been the place of many birthday parties and family barbecues. There had been pool parties with groups of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts before everyone grew up and went away, leaving Mrs. L. to sit alone in the water with her beehive on hot summer days.

Mrs. L told me the best thing when I had first met her: as a child she had been in the "Our Gang" series starring the Little Rascals.

"Oh! Were you a featured character?" I asked her. "Were you 'Shirley' or 'Mary?'"

"Oh, no," she told me. "I was only an extra. But I had fun playing with the other children on set. I have such good memories of those times."

In her own quiet and even fashionable way, Mrs. L has left me with good memories from a few short years of being neighbors. I picture a halo on top of her beehive and wings bigger than her hair do.

Maybe she'll say hi to Caesar pug and Oscar pug for me, since they were also her neighbors for a while.


KK said...

Oh this is one of my favorite posts of yours, Peter. What a sweet lady. I had a couple of neighbors like this when I lived in the older part of St Louis before moving here, though they weren't nearly as interesting. Thanks for the smile today. :)

golfwidow said...

There is no way that woman isn't in heaven right now.

Her hair brushed against it for years.

Cheryl said...

What a great tribute. I love how earlier generations really committed to maintaining formal hairstyles (or other beauty rituals) as a matter of dignity. I love it, even though I'm so far from replicating it.

quin browne said...

Oh, Peter!! Please write my eulogy.