Looking Back

A special neighbor

Odds are that most of us had someone in our lives while growing up who influenced us. We probably didn’t truly appreciate this fact until we aged. I didn’t have to go far to find the first person who made me feel very special. It was our neighbor Trudy.

The houses on our street are fairly close together, and Trudy and “Doc” lived next door. I never knew why he was called “Doc” because he wasn’t a doctor. Like all kids I was a regular “question box” but I guess I never asked, because for me it was all about Trudy in those days.

In the summer you could find Trudy on her front porch just about every afternoon. She sat on a cushioned glider doing a New York Times crossword puzzle. She faced the street and people passing by stopped for a visit. She used to invite me to sit next to her, and if there was a clue suitable for a 10-year-old she would ask me for the answer. Her dictionary lay beside her and sometimes she would ask me to open it and look for the answers. Little did I know that I was getting an education lesson while I was having fun.

As I look back, I think Trudy missed her only daughter, Shirley, who left for college when I was eight years old. I remember hanging out at the house as Shirley packed up all her things to head to the University of Vermont. I wanted a “steamer trunk” just like hers to put all my belongings in! I watched as she packed away her makeup mirror and longed for the day when I could sit in front of one and put on mascara.

One of the big draws at Trudy’s was Beechnut gum. She always kept it in a drawer right next to the couch and I was told I could help myself to a piece when I was over there.

There was a time when my father worked in Middlebury and had to take the bus home to Rutland. It arrived around 10 p.m. and my mother had to pick him up. Of course, I was in bed by then. Rather than wake me to go to the bus station, my mother and Trudy came up with a plan. Trudy sat in her upstairs window with binoculars. My room faced an upstairs window in her house. If I came out of my room she could see me and would come over here immediately. I never woke up!

Back in the 50s most people only had one car, so Trudy often asked me to go to the neighborhood store for bread or milk. I was told to use some of the change for a popsicle or fudgsicle, my two favorites. Obviously, I never minded doing errands for Trudy!

When it was time for me to go to college, Trudy remembered how fascinated I was with the pedestal makeup mirror that her daughter had taken to college. She gave me one as a gift and I still have it today.

Most of my boyfriends met Trudy at some point in our relationship. They all got her “seal of approval,” which must mean that I chose wisely as I navigated my social life. Trudy was particularly fond of Peter, the man I married. She watched us come home from our first date and told me she thought it might be serious because I invited him to come in. We sat on the back porch and talked for a very long time! As I look back I remember there were some who didn’t make it through the door at the end of the date. Guess I was pretty fussy!

When it came time to be married, my matron of honor had trouble finding someone to watch her baby. Trudy offered to miss the wedding ceremony and take care of the baby. We made sure she had a ride to the reception afterward. I remember she loved watching everyone dance . . . especially the “dollar dance,” where the guys pay to dance with the bride.

About five years after our wedding, my husband and I moved into my family home upon the death of my mother. Trudy still lived next door. She loved the fact that there would be no adjustment on her part to a new neighbor. It was sad when she had to go into a nursing home but her job was done! We are all in the lives of one another for a reason. Hers was to be a role model and to show me the meaning of kindness and to be interested in the lives of others.

But being neighbors didn’t end in the way you might think. My mother and father and Trudy and her husband are just a few feet away from one another in St. Mary’s Cemetery. They will be neighbors forever! Apparently, I will also have that “privilege” as there is a space reserved for me and my husband. However, I am not ready to resume that “neighbor status” just yet! I’m having too much fun looking back.

2 comments on “A special neighbor

  1. What a thrill it was for me to read this wonderful article about my Aunt Trudy!! Thanks to Cassie Horner who keyed me into the fact that it would be published today, I had been looking forward to it all week. Mary Ellen, you may or may not remember my siblings and me, but we graced Aunt Trudy’s door many times in our younger years as kids growing up in Rutland. We moved over the mountain to Woodstock in 1968 and that is where my younger sister Martha, my mom, Trudy’s youngest sister Patricia, who is now 90 and living at The Mertens House in Woodstock, and my husband and I still live today. It was wonderful reading about the impact that Trudy had on you as a young girl. It took me back to sitting in her living room playing with some of her little knickknacks, Chinese checkers, card games and YES chewing the BeechNut gum!! I knew that you were a special neighbor to her and my Uncle Doc and yet, I had no idea just how close the two of you were. How great to travel back down memory lane! I can’t wait to share this article with my mom tomorrow. She will be delighted to read it! Also, I am going to share this with my 2nd graders at The Prosper Valley School, (formerly The Pomfret and Bridgewater Schools) as I am currently teaching an intergenerational unit to them in preparation for a program we will be doing at The Thompson Senior Center this year as we share and compare their lives with elderly friends on a variety of topics. At the present time I have them writing a family memory story of their own. I can’t wait to share a little tidbit from my own family’s past, thanks to you. And now, I think I will go sit and rock a minute in Aunt Trudy’s old wooden rocking chair just for old time’s sake. You may remember the very chair that sat in her living room for many, many years!
    Thanks so much MaryEllen, this made my day!
    Barb Leonard

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. I absolutely remember all of the Mangan “kids” visiting Trudy. She loved seeing all of you and also the Piette “kids”. She used to update me on what all of you were doing. I remember well the rocking chair. It’s so nice that you now have it. I had forgotten about the little knickknacks. Some were in (or on) the corner cupboard in her dining room. “Looking Back” has been such a fun column. Please remember me to your mother.

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