I went to my next door neighbor’s funeral yesterday.
I never met her. She was living next door when we moved here this year. But then again, she was living next door since she was born in 1915.
My house was only 14 years old when she was born. I would pay a small ransom to know what it was like then. I’m skilled at forensic carpentry and painting, and have found all sorts of clues about what this house was like when it was built, but there’s only so much you can figure out by poking around a house that’s been whaled on by numerous inhabitants and their handymen accomplices for better than a century.
It’s an interesting thing, to put yourself as best you can in another’s place. I try it often when I write, with variable success. Put yourself in my neighbor’s place for a moment. 1915.
I might tell my children that I used to drive a car with quite a bit of sheet metal visible on the dash, and only an AM radio to listen to, to give them some perspective. In 1915? The stop sign was invented.
I’m so old, I can tell my kids that when I was their age, GI Joe didn’t have a kung-fu grip. In 1915 the Raggedy Ann doll was patented.
I was too young, but my older brother got to see Ted Williams play just before Ted retired. In 1915 Babe Ruth hit a home run. His first, actually.
My dad took me to see Lawrence of Arabia in the movie theater when I was young. Not the first time it came out — when it was restored and re-released. In 1915 Lawrence was wandering the Levant and Sykes and Picot came to their agreement.
If he’d have hurried over, Booker T. Washington could have made it to my neighbor’s christening before he passed away. He probably would have preferred to go see some fellows lay the cornerstone of the Lincoln Memorial instead. Maine’s chilly in November.
After she was born in 1915, my neighbor moved into the house next door, which has a little sign on the gable end that says: 1806. I’m told the house used to be across the street from mine, and they rolled it across the street on logs to the spot it’s on now.
She ran a greenhouse, just across my driveway, long since abandoned. Its former denizens, just ephemeral posies for quotidian holidays, have mostly long since succumbed to exposure to the elements; but some have spilled over the low, crumbling walls to seed themselves all around their former home. It’s as fitting an epitaph as one could hope for.