Fruitcake and 20 bucks

Our sweet next door neighbor passed away last summer and her house just now went up for sale. Agnus was in her early 90’s and was the original owner of that house, buying it brand new in 1947. She raised a daughter there and outlived her husband. She was an independent, determined woman who had a mind about how things should be. When Andy once did her a “favor” by cutting back a bush in her yard that was growing over the sidewalk, she surprised me with her reaction.

“Somebody decided to just cut that bush in my yard. Do you know who did that?”

“Yes, Andy did. He was trying to be helpful since it was taking over the sidewalk.” I replied, sensing her annoyance.

“Well, he did a terrible job. If he wants to be helpful, he can cut back your tree that’s hanging over into my backyard.”

Point taken.

One day Andy mentioned the idea of taking down the chain link fence between our houses and replacing it with a nice wood one.

“You can replace that fence when I’m dead and gone. That chain link fence works just fine,” Agnes stated. And that was that.

Agnes spoke her mind. She was a funny woman who loved to tell stories if you took the time to wait out her prickly exterior. She mowed her lawn with her electric lawn mower, hunched over it, pushing it back and forth. When she could no longer mow it, she paid our boys to take care of her lawn. They wanted to charge her less than what they charged others to give her a break, but she would have none of that. She paid them what she thought they were worth and not a penny less. She made sure her sister did the same when she moved into a nursing home.

We would visit her in her comfy little house from time to time; always bringing sugar cookies for Valentine’s day and Christmas. And every Christmas, without fail, she would slowly make the long, difficult walk from her door to ours to deliver our Christmas gift; a fruitcake and 20 bucks. Every year we would look at the cake knowing none of us would eat it, but we were thankful, none-the-less.

We had some sweet conversations in the nursing home and also very sad. She missed her house. She missed her independence. Every visit she told me about how she didn’t need any help and was ready to go back home. But one sad day she had accepted her fate.

“I’m not going home. I’m going to die here.”

I tried to distract her by reminding her of the wonderful life she had lived and asked her to tell me more stories. Josie went with me several times and once brought with her a picture of a ladybug that she had drawn, knowing that Agnes loved ladybugs. She had her sister hang it in her room and talked about how much she loved that ladybug.

The day after Agnes passed away, we were told by her longtime friend and hairdresser.

“I wanted you to know because you were good neighbors and friends to Agnes. She really enjoyed living next to you,” he said wiping away tears.

When I told Josie the news, she burst into tears, which caught me by surprise. As I comforted her she said, “I’m just really going to miss her. She was always so nice.”

Now let’s be honest, nice is not the first word that would come to mind whenever I thought of Agnes. Strong, determined, independent, thoughtful; those were the words I thought of. But Josie knew otherwise. She didn’t hear the complaining. She was never put off by Agnes’ rough-around-the-edges personality. She remembered her stories, her smile when she saw Josie, and her fruitcake and 20 bucks.

The other night our family sat down to dinner and looked out our window to see several people coming and going to look at Agnes’ house. We wondered who would end up buying it. Would it be a newly married couple excited to get into their first house? Or would it be someone who would just tear the whole thing down and build something newer, bigger, and better? Whoever it is, I’m sure they’ll make lots of changes and make it fit their needs. Maybe they’ll finally tear down that chain link fence. Agnes saw no need for such nonsense. That little two-bedroom, one bathroom house was all that she needed.

“Remember that nasty cake she used to bring over every Christmas?” one of our boys asked.

“Yes, it’s called a fruitcake,” I said. We all laughed at the memory and told more stories about her.

“I miss her. And I miss her bringing over that nasty cake,” he continued.

“I miss her too, buddy.”