Friends of All Ages Welcome Here
My girls had been playing outside for quite a while without a peep, and usually this means some sort of horrible thing is going on, some gigantic mess that will take hours to rectify, so I went out to check on them. Instead of a disaster, I found that they were at my neighbor's house helping her transplant flowers and hosta from her front yard to the back. After verifying that they were indeed helping instead of "helping" and that it was okay with Miss D if they helped, I left them to their task happy that they were both enjoying themselves and doing something constructive at the same time. It made me think back to when I was a kid and the wonderful friendship I had with Mrs. Gruner, the lady that lived next door to my family back when I was five and six years old.
We lived with my grandparents at their house in Bethesda at the time, and since there were frequently as many as eight people living in that house between my parents, sister, and me as well as my mother's parents and siblings, I often sought refuge outside of the house. Mrs. Gruner lived next door and she loved to garden. Her own children were grown and gone, and she spent her time tending a huge vegetable garden and flowers around the edges of the yard. For me the highlight was the sunflowers, seemingly taller than giants to my five-year-old perspective, and I would spend hours having all sorts of adventures in the land of the sunflowers. Mrs. Gruner not only humored me and allowed this, but she encouraged me and often played with me; when we were tired from our adventures, she'd take me inside and let me help with her other love: baking. We baked pies and cakes, but her bread was her specialty, and to this day the smell of freshly baked bread instantly makes me feel warm and cozy and safe.
One of my most vivid memories is my mother waking me up "early" on my sixth birthday. I remember padding across the lawn in my pjs and bathrobe, the dew wet and cool between my toes. Mrs. Gruner had baked me a loaf of bread and it was fresh from the oven. I can still taste the butter on the warm bread, feel the heft of the second loaf she gave me to bring home along with my copy of "Now You Are Six." It is still one of my most cherished gifts in life.
I think these kinds of friendships are vitally important to children, and all too often in this climate of fear of sexual predators and other horrors it is becoming rare. I am so grateful we live in a neighborhood where we know our neighbors and where our children can run and play with everyone, children and adults alike, able to place their trust in people so they can build their own memories of being warm and cozy and safe.
Late last week my girls were outside playing and I went to get them before they were eaten alive by the mosquitos, and I found them sitting out back on a different neighbor's swing, talking to Mr. A while he cut the grass. Ms. K, his partner, stood on their deck with their three dogs (hence their great appeal to my children), I stood on mine, both of us looking down on the girls chattering on about all kinds of things and Ms. K said "There's a picture! Where's the camera? Somebody get the camera."
Someday my girls will be swinging on a porch swing smelling freshly cut grass and feel warm and cozy and safe.