Marie was standing in her driveway one morning when I pulled up. "Hello new neighbors," she yelled over and the kids and I went to meet this woman.
It didn't take long for her to become a mainstay in my life......the older surrogate mom while my own mother and mother-in-law were very far away. She would come over often, sometimes to visit or to show me some new clothing purchase. If we were working in the yard she'd tell us to take a break because we were making her tired just looking at us.
She had many friends and when she would go to lunch with them she could never fasten her favorite bracelet and so would appear at my door in her long red skirt and ask me to help her with the clasp. After my mom met her she said, "Those tall women can wear anything they want and look like a million bucks." In Marie's case, this was very true.
Marie had raised two boys alone in the house next door long before we arrived, and during a time when that was far from being a common experience. At one point in her life she was the private nurse for Harry Truman after his presidency when he came back to Missouri.
Mark and I found her fascinating and could listen to her stories over and over.
She was raised in Atchison, Kansas and had a deep knowledge of antiques. When a local place was going out of business I put a hold on a pine cabinet and drove home to get Marie who couldn't be happier to go on this adventure. "Tell me what you honestly think," I said. "I'll only buy it if you think it's worth it." She gave her blessing and every time she'd come over she would admire our mutually agreed-upon purchase.
Sometimes she would call us up and say, "I've got his bottle of wine that I can't open so why don't the two of you come over and help me out with it." And we would sit at her dining room table and talk and laugh over a glass of wine.
For a short while one of her sons moved back home and the two of them wore a path between their house and ours. They each found the other incredibly annoying, so Mike would come over and complain to Mark about Marie, and Marie would come over and complain to me about Mike.
We were amused.
One day Marie came over very distraught. Someone who said they were from the water department came to her door to check some things out and she let them in. While they were in her house she became suspicious and thankfully, got them out before anything happened. She called the police and by dinner time was on the local news being interviewed about this water department scam that seemed to be preying on the elderly.
She became nervous and afraid after that and I noticed some other things that didn't seem like her. I mentioned them to Mark who said her confusion was a sign of aging and that she seemed to be fine to him. I wasn't so sure and would later learn that women are especially good at covering up memory issues unless you're around them often enough to figure it out.
A few weeks after that we were walking down the street to a graduation party for a neighbor's son when I noticed Marie a few doors away. We went up to her and though she was going to the same party, she couldn't figure out where it was. Her confusion was evident and disturbing to her and us.
After that I called her son, Dan, who lived close by. "It is none of my business," I said, "but she seems very forgetful and we're worried about her. We are all keeping our eye out for her but I thought you should know."
He was already aware of her lapses in memory and in the process of taking her car away which made my heart sink. No more lunches with friends? No trips to Macy's for something fabulous to wear when she went out? No going to church?
I was already mourning Marie's independence.
As time went on she would often come over to get Mark for help with her washing machine. "The darn thing keeps breaking down," she said to him, but in fact she would set it and never pull the knob out to start it. Once she came and got me in tears because the numbers on the refrigerator wouldn't stop going around. It was her dishwasher running its cycle, and rather than explain that I just shut it off which seemed to relieve her greatly. Besides those things, my neighbor with the impeccable fashion sense started making odd clothing choices. Wool sweaters in the Kansas heat in July, and layers of clothes that would make me sweat just looking at her.
It was obvious that staying in her home was not going to last for much longer.
Dan came over and told us that Marie had Alzheimer's and would be going into assisted living by the end of the month. They were packing up what they could to make her new residence feel like home and selling off the rest.
The day before Marie was to leave I went over to my old friend's house and invited her over for a glass of wine. "Just like the old days, Marie."
This time Marie had no Harry Truman stories to engage us with, just a nervousness that wouldn't go away. We talked about being neighbors for such a long time, and that we promised to see her in her new place when she got settled. She had a piece of pie and took her wine with her when I walked her home. By mid-morning the following day she was gone.
I dragged my feet going to see her and when I ran out of excuses and was but five minutes from the place on another errand, I pointed the car in the direction of my friend. There was beautiful Marie sitting in the lobby with another woman and I was so happy to see her I could have cried.
"Sit, sit," she said. "What do you think of the place? Do you know I can have coffee whenever I want? It's just right over there. Would you like me to pour you a cup?
Always the hostess, our Marie.
"Have you ever met my son, Dan? He comes by to check on me a few times a week."
"As a matter of fact, Marie, I know Dan pretty well," I said.
"Oh yes, of course you do. I forgot."
We sat for awhile catching up and then she took me upstairs to see her new place. There were all the familiar things that were in her house for years. The chair I always sat in when I went to visit her, the framed paintings of family owned farms in Atchison, the bedroom set that had been handed down for generations.
"I like it, Marie," I said. It looks like you have everything you need."
"Are you kidding me," she said. "Sometimes I want to call a cab and tell them to take me back to 71st Terrace, the best street in the world."
"I know. Aren't you glad we found our way there?"
"71st Terrace I would say to the cab driver if one pulled up right now. Take me back there as fast as you can."
"Well, Marie, I think you're in good hands here and I need to be going. The kids will be getting out of school soon and I have to pick them up."
"Oh, the children, how are they?" I miss them so," she said.
"They are just fine and and they miss you, too," I said. "Things haven't been the same since you left."
She walked me out and I hugged her when it was time to leave.
"I'm so glad you came," she said.
"Me too, Marie. Me too."
"You have a great husband and kids, don't you?"
"I do. I'm lucky that way."
"I thought so and now you get to go back to 71st Terrace. Maybe I should go with you."
"Oh Marie, I'd get in a lot of trouble if I did that but maybe Dan can bring you over one day for a visit."
"I would love that. I'm going to talk to him about that. About taking me to see my old friends, but before you go tell me again.........how is it that I know you?"