Cutting a Gate
I was four years old and she had just retired when we began visiting every day. At first we talked through the wire fence that separated our back yards. Blue and white morning-glories trumpeted toward the rising Florida sun as my neighbor, Dr Ouida Abbott, talked to me about the sweet peas she staked in the middle of her yard, grumbled about the sand spurs in the lawn, and chattered about the cardinals who ate sunflower seeds she scattered under a cherry tree. I told her about the misery of life with three older brothers, a mother who was a writer and a father who was so busy being the pastor to all the families in our church that we hardly ever saw him. Dr. Abbott, so small under the shade of her straw hat, had learned how to listen well during her years of teaching at the university. I met her when she was alone and free to reflect.
One morning my neighbor came to the fence with work gloves on her hands, gripping wire pliers. She snipped and snapped at the wire that divided our yards. She pulled away the vines and bent the wire’s sharp edges back. I watched as Dr. Abbott made a gate just for me to step through. Then she went to the shed for a shovel and a rake. She cleared a path from the new gate to her kitchen door. We worked as a team, placing large smooth stones a step apart, around the rose bed, and across the grassy expanse. She leaned on her rake as she wiped her face with her forearm, “This is the way you will come to visit me.” I did. Every day.
We pulled weeds and filled buckets with them. We chopped firewood and stacked it in her shed. We sat on her red velvet couch in the library and read books to each other. We sat in the sewing room upstairs, where the sun looked at us from windowed walls, and she taught me how to crochet. We sat side by side on the front porch swing and watched traffic sail by on University Boulevard. She made taffy and we pulled it by the wood burning stove in her kitchen. She gave me money and allowed me to walk to the bakery for bread. Always she listened as if there was value in what I had to say.
I remember how the folds of skin were wrinkled around her lips, the crack in her aging voice, how wisps of hair refused to be trapped in the bun on the back of her head. A green wicker rocker in the kitchen was filled with worn out cushions and pillows that made room for both of us when everything else had been said. We rocked without a word, creaking back and forth.
I remember what it feels like to be welcomed and warmed into a place of belonging. A gate was cut for me.
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