By Johannah Bryson, author of Lake Effect
When we bought our home back in 1990, the people we bought it from told us the neighbor to our left was “a crabby old lady.” They advised us to “ignore and steer clear of her” and everything would be just fine. To me this said more about the folks we were buying the house from than it said about the neighbor. Still, I was left curious as to why they’d say that.
Our first weekend in our home, we set about clearing some debris and an old dilapidated shed out of the backyard. As my husband knocked it down, we heard clapping. We looked over the fence as our new neighbor acknowledged us with a slight nod of her head as she clapped. She then, without a word, disappeared into her own home. Later that day, our son, who was four at the time, appeared at my side with a handful of beautiful daffodils. I knew where those flowers had come from and it wasn’t our yard, although he didn’t know that. My husband and I promptly walked him back over, knocked on our new neighbor’s front door, and had our son apologize for picking her flowers without asking her first. She fought back laughter with all her might to help us teach a lesson but those two simple acts began a friendship that would span years.
We would come to find out that our “crabby neighbor” was really a retired captain from the U.S. Army, a nurse who’d fearlessly crossed the Atlantic many times during WWII caring for wounded and dying U.S. vets. She was in London during the Blitz and we spent many a summer afternoon or long winter evening, listening to her tales. She married much later in life and never had children. Turns out she’d lost her beloved husband not too long before we moved in. She was lonely and hurting and so closed herself off from everyone. It was our son and our collie dog that eventually won her trust and gave us the friendship of a lifetime.
Before she passed away, Vera gave me her beloved worn and tattered copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I’d read it a few years earlier on her recommendation and it had become my favorite too. She’d carried this particular copy with her during the war, re-reading it many times over. Her love of literature was as varied and interesting as she was and we traded books and shared reviews. She would be so proud to see me published. She’d heard the beginnings of Lake Effect, in its earliest stages, and some of the bones of the story belong to her insight. As the end drew closer, I would sit beside her bed and read aloud to her whatever novel I was into at the time, a privilege for me and a memory I’ll treasure always.
So as this Memorial Day approaches, I raise, as the Irish would say, the Parting Glass to you, Captain Vera. Thank you for your service, your friendship, and your love of good literature.
“And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall. So fill to me the parting glass, good night and joy be to you all.” — From The Parting Glass, a Scottish/Irish traditional song.