Everett’s wife had died before we met him and he could have become an isolated widower, as so many do. Instead, Everett cherished his life long friend Palmer. Palmer was Irish, a bookkeeper and a confirmed bachelor. Palmer did, however, have a “lady friend” with whom he kept company. Every other weekend or so, Palmer would come over to Everett’s house for cocktails, supper and hair cutting. Palmer and Everett took turns cutting each other’s hair, saving their limited funds for more important things(like cocktails and supper!)
Palmer often spent the night and apparently some of the neighbors thought it was suspicious. Everett was deeply offended by this. I was sorry that people were so unused to deep male friendship that they could only think of it in sexual terms. I always assumed that it ensured that they could drink cocktails and watch the late show without Palmer having to drive “under the influence.”
Palmer liked my future husband immensely and rooted for the relationship to succeed. After we married, Palmer and Everett gave us a pair of lawn chairs so we could enjoy sitting out in our back yard as much as they enjoyed sitting out in Everett’s. It was a perfect present, and we felt blessed to have gotten to know the two “advanced in years” friends.
No, unfortunately Everett didn’t help with my lawn care. He was a fastidious gardener, with neatly trimmed shrubbery and a summer full of impatiens in his back yard. What he did do was speak often and wistfully about the Philippine couple who had owned the house before me. He used to tell me about how beautiful the yard was when they lived there.
As a single mother, and one not very schooled in yard care, the best I could do was to keep the lawn mowed when it got tall enough to embarrass me. Which was quite a bit higher than Everett’s lawn. Nonetheless, he never criticized my yard, merely reminisced about that old owner.
But much to his delight, in 1986 I began to date the man who became my husband in 1988. Charlie loves yard work, and even when we dated the yard improved. But true joy came to Everett when, after our marriage, Charlie moved into our house. He immediately began feeding the shrubs, trimming the hedge, watering(why–it just makes it grow faster was my viewpoint)the lawn, cleaning out the walks, edging the grass and removing dandelions(which I always thought were kind of pretty.)
Needless to say, Charlie and Everett became fast friends. Everett continually congratulated me on my choice of men, not the least because of his expertise in the yard. Now Everett could sit in his living room and look across the street at a yard, he now declared, “was even nicer than years before!”
My daughter had an aquarium in our dining room with a variety of fish. Fish regularly die, as anyone who has had dime store fish can tell you. Our first one was won at a county fair, and subsequent ones were no more precious. We had a lot of fish funerals in those days. I wanted to flush them so they could join in the great water, but my daughter insisted on wrapping them in aluminum foil and burying them.
I can’t go on to write about Everett without mentioning a highlight of the pet funeral sagas. Our turtle had died in the fall from pneumonia, I think, and we had buried him in the back yard. In the spring my daughter and her friends came in with the astonishing news that the turtle had gone to Heaven. When I asked how they knew, they somberly replied that they had dug him up and he was gone!
Anyway, one summer vacation Everett babysat our fish. I neglected to tell him that they regularly went to the fish farm in the sky. When we came back, my daughter was thrilled to see that the fish had multiplied. Instead of six fish, we now had twelve. Later Everett confessed that they had all died and that he and his friend had gone to a pet store and restocked the tank. He couldn’t remember how many there had been, but he figured twelve was a good number. We never did let her in on the miracle!
When we moved into a house of our own, we had the good fortune of being surrounded by lots of children for my daughter to play with. We also gained three stellar neighbors, all men, who would prove very helpful in the years to come. Today I will tell the first of Everett Rundell stories. I don’t want to limit myself to just one.
Everett was a widower, a retired linotype operator, bent over from terrible arthritis, and seemingly a little grumpy. It turns out, of course, that the grump was just a poor disguise over a heart of gold. I think he just didn’t want the word to get out that he was really a very sweet man. He must have had an image to protect among those other newspaper men.
Early on in our new home, my daughter and I both got the stomach bug. Everett was used to seeing us every day, and when I went out to pick up the newspaper, he asked what was wrong. When I told him, he said he was sorry. Later that afternoon, Everett showed up on our porch with a big bowl of strawberry jello saying, “I’m not much of a cook, but I make a mean bowl of Jello!” He saved the day as my daughter and I dug in to the first solid(or semi-solid) food in 24 hours!
While I had encountered a negative response when I called the police when I was managing the apartment house, when I needed them when I was living in the duplex, they were very helpful.
A group of about 6 little kids, my daughter included, set up a lemonade stand on our sidewalk. I was home, all the neighbors were home, and we could all see the stand from our windows. Nonetheless, the kids encountered an exhibitionist without our knowing. Late in the afternoon my daughter offhandedly commented that she hadn’t liked that man who had rubbed apple juice on himself. And he had paid them a dollar!
I told her that the man was breaking the law and I called the police. A very kind man arrived at our home and listened to her while she told him exactly where the man had applied the apple juice. The neighbor had a description of the car, though she had not been suspicious at the time. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this was an isolated incident, and they never found the man responsible.
My daughter was satisfied that she had told the police about the bad man. Interestingly for several days after that the kids played a game of “running away from the bad man.” He never came back, but they were clearly prepared for any future encounter. I was even more cautious, too. Still I was glad that the Portland Police took the time to calmly listen to a six year old little girl talk about the bad man.
When we moved into the duplex, my daughter was just 3 and 1/2. Anyone with small children knows what a pain it is to get them buckled into a car seat, drive to the store, unbuckle, shop and then rebuckle for the ride home. Blessedly, two blocks away there was an all purpose grocery store, Porcelli’s. (pronounced by the way with a c like celery, not a c like cello.)
Porcelli’s at that time in the late 1970’s was not like the corner stores you find today. These days they are likely to stock lottery tickets, 3000 kinds of soft drinks, cigarettes, candy and potato snacks. Not much use to feed a family. In fact, when these are the only available options, the neighborhoods are now designated “food deserts.”
Porcelli’s had a meat department, fresh produce, frozen goods and plenty of canned goods. They also stocked household necessities such as dish soap and toilet tissue. In fact, I could, and often did, do my entire shopping in the little store. We used our trusty little red wagon to haul the food home. They even still delivered to the very elderly neighbors who would either phone in an order or come in person to choose their own groceries. And yes, the long time customers had accounts, kept on a little pad behind the register.
Eventually the neighborhood changed as the majority of people now drove to the large supermarkets. By the time we moved away from the area in 2001, Porcelli’s too had gone over to lottery tickets, hot potato slices and beer. Still, while it lasted, it made life for this single mother much easier. And I was very grateful for those diehard Italians. Even if they pronounced their name with an American accent!
Abraham Lincoln once said, “every man over forty is responsible for his face.” I thought of this when I lived in the duplex with my daughter and got to know two neighbors, Emma and Mary. Emma lived next door in the house pictured above. Mary lived half a block away. They were both in their early 80’s and had known each other their entire lives.
Every line on Emma’s face turned up. She was perennially smiling and welcoming. From one of the Italian families who had originally had small truck farms all over our neighborhood, Emma grew raspberries and cultivated a lovely vegetable garden. She had been a widow for some years and tended it herself. She told me that while her husband lived, he worked the garden considering it “men’s work.” But she had watched him carefully and knew how to keep things growing.
Every line on Mary’s face pointed down. She had a perpetual scowl on her face and found fault with everything. While not overtly rude, it was obvious that she considered neighbors a necessary annoyance when you lived in a neighborhood.
Still, Mary and Emma were fast friends. Emma never seemed to have a cheering effect on Mary and Mary never seemed to dampen Emma’s outlook on life. When I asked Emma once about Mary, she breezily told me, “Oh, she’s always been like that. That’s just Mary.” I marveled then and now about that approach to friendship. Mary needed Emma in her life, but Emma also needed Mary. Together they were a living history book about the neighborhood. Separately, their faces told their own stories!