Meet my 90 something year old neighbor, Jewel

My husband and I just moved to a more “neighborhoody” small town. We are coming from an apartment complex closer to the city where everyone comes and goes without even a nod of the head. Our little town is full of neighbors who stop and say “howdy” like for real one older gentleman used that term while we were walking with our kids.  There are real live ice cream trucks driving by in the evenings, kids riding their bikes, and cute little store fronts and eateries down the street. As far as I am concerned this is as close to living in Stars Hollow as we can get and that makes me happy.

One of our goals for our new abode is to be more neighborhoody towards our neighbors. So far this has proved difficult, due to the fact that we have just completed one month at this residence and we have had a car accident, stomach flu, house guest, a business trip and more. However over this holiday weekend I seized the moment to do some much needed yard work. While cleaning up Mrs. Jewel made her way over to introduce herself.

Her white hair was properly tied up into a scarf which made me feel a little bit less self-conscience because I had to hog tie my robust mane into a bandanna in order to ward off spiders and what not. She wore a purple floral dress with a little fanny pac positioned on her hip. I noticed she was wearing make up, at least lip stick. The red hue had been drawn on out of the lines a little bit as if my toddler had done it. She wore those gigantic puffy sneakers you find in drug stores that Velcro. They were nude color.

Now I am not 100% sure of Mrs. Jewel’s age but she told me that she was later celebrating her son’s 70th birthday and her eldest son is 73. I tell you what, if you live to see your children in their 70’s you have lived quite a full life. I only spent a short time with her but, within our 15 min chat she gave enough insight for me to fill a whole blog or two.

I am captivated by old people I think. She said little but exuded wisdom. Jewel began to tell me about the huge oak tree, whose shade was offering us some solace from the Texas heat. It was so large I couldn’t imagine a day where it had to be nurtured and watered by anyone. It turns out her neighbor planted that tree almost 70 years ago. For some reason her neighbor didn’t have time to care for it so she took it upon herself. She told me she adopted that tree. She raised it up and the tree is almost as old as her boys, now old men themselves. This struck me as enduring. Who cares to raise up a tree you do not plant? Here we are 70 years later and what was once small and frail towers over her, now small and frail. She was proud of that tree.

Mrs. Jewel then told me a history of everyone on the street. She told me about their comings and goings and how many children they have and how the children are now grown. She mentioned, several times that people are too busy these days for much of anything. Too busy for their neighbors, too busy for their children, too busy to care for a tree. For one reason or another the notion of business and her sorrowful reflection on it, has eaten away at me ever since. Why in the world have we become so busy as a culture? What do we busy ourselves with?

She told me about her quilting business, which she said was the reason she hadn’t taken the initiative to introduce herself to me sooner. Here she is old enough to have children in their 70s, in her puffy drug store shoes, and she is quilting. She was busy working on back orders. They say a busy life, is a blessed life. So often we hurry to finish work and she delights in it. I just realized as a type, this is an oxymoron, how can one relish in an a life that  isn’t busy, but also praise a life of business?

While I may not agree with Jewel’s fashion sense, she cared about her appearance. I have observed with many older people that they care about what they look like, their hair, their homes, their yards. I am sure that the mentality is wrought with the trouble of keeping up appearances but there is an art to caring about the little things that may be lost on us young folk. Why do we devalue our property, and have no pride attached to the homes we have worked so hard for? Why don’t we try to put our best foot forward. I see this as a typical case of over correction. While her generation may have been a little too concerned about white washed fences and mint juleps, the generations after her (I think there is like a 4 degree separation between us) have allowed lethargy to creep into every aspect of our lives to combat this. Lethargy I think is sold to you as freedom from expectations, then something drastic happens. You began to expect less and less of yourself. Maybe we have all suffered because of this.

Jewel mention quite a few times which ladies of the house worked and those who didn’t work on the street. This bothered me as a working mom. Can I cut the mustard, are my children suffering? I wonder what she has observed as she has watched these families over the years.

While not pertinent to the story, Mrs. Jewel happens to be white and I happen to be black. She has been at this residence for 70 years, which means when they cleared the land to put in the new development the entire town was populated by whites just like herself. Over time this area has notoriously become more diversified setting off a large migration of white families to the north. I often wonder about this time. As racially tense as America seems to be in these last couple of years, I could only imagine what she has seen through those eyes. She always seems to be watching. As I drive through these old streets I think fondly on people like Jewel who wouldn’t budge. I don’t know if she stayed because she accepted her diverse neighbors or if she stayed out of  sure will power to not be moved. Either way she seems to have made her peace with it now. Regardless of her situation her longevity in that place is appealing to me.

We ended this conversation by exchanging numbers. The next day she came by to give me a cake. I look forward to more reflections with my 90 something year old neighbor. old-woman-cartoon-clip-art-860861

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