My mother was a unique woman in many ways, and there are thousands of stories to tell about her. This is one of my favorites.
Back when I was still dead, my mom and dad moved from Cleveland to Akron with my then-infant sister. They bought a gorgeous home in West Akron. It was a beautiful three-story home with a full basement that was built at the turn of the century. The house is still there, beautiful as ever. It was a gorgeous house in a respectable neighborhood on a street lined with enormous oak trees that provide constant shade against the sun.
Mom and dad moved to Akron because dad became a lawyer at the Firestone headquarters in Akron. It was a very big job. Mom didn’t have to work, although she still did on and off in various jobs. I believe she was not employed when they first moved into the Dorchester house.
One thing was certain: neither mom nor dad knew anyone in the area when they moved there. Dad was from Toledo, Ohio, and mom was from Alexandria, Virginia. They met at Duke University, lived together in San Diego, and then finally settled down in Akron. They needed friends and connections.
Dad had an open source for friends in his work. He was a kind, charismatic man, and he soon found many, many friends through Firestone. He had an open resource for support, and he used it well. When he died roughly 35 years after moving to Akron, friends he made when he first started at Firestone made the pilgrimage to his memorial in Nashville, Tennessee. Some came from as far as Liberia.
For mom, she had maybe a bit tougher of a task in making friends. She was in a new home in a new city with a new daughter. She did not have the open resource for friendship that my dad did.
However, mom was a truly unique kind of bird.
She also had a keen ability to make friends that stuck. It is still difficult for me to pin down exactly what made mom so endearing to so many people. She was quite the contradiction in many ways.
She was never hesitant with a compliment, unless it was for herself.
She was always willing to laugh, but her severe thoughts outnumbered her comical ones.
She was very easy to like, even when she was a bit crass.
But I think it was her ability to always be herself that stood out. Like it or not, she wouldn’t pretend around anyone, and I can’t think of anyone who didn’t like her.
Anyway, back to the actual situation.
There’s my mom, settling into a new house with a new child in a new city, and she only had a few simple opportunities to make new friends. One of those opportunities was with the neighbors.
The houses in my old neighborhood were decently sized, but they sat fairly close together. Our house had a window in the kitchen that faced the next house’s kitchen window. At most, there was 25 feet between the houses. You could easily see the neighbors in their windows. You could see the expressions on their faces, in fact.
On a day soon after my parents moved into our house, my mother was busy in our kitchen working at the sink. Across the way, Sarah, the woman who lived in the house next door, appeared in her kitchen window. The two women had not met yet, and they made eye contact.
I can imagine, from my own experience, the kind of slightly nervous anticipation Sarah might have been feeling. Although you are happy that someone bought the house next door to you, you might still be anxious to find out what kind of people bought the house. These are people who purchased land directly next to land you purchased. Hopefully, they turn out to be good people, because if you don’t get along, well, you are still next-door neighbors until one party opts out of their property or dies or something.
If Sarah had any of that nervous anticipation, she handled it the way anyone else would have. Once Sarah made eye contact with my mom, she simply smiled and gave an enthusiastic wave.
My mom was unique, and she was always herself, as I have told you.
This is why, for whatever reason, my mom’s response to her new neighbor and first potential friend waving at her through a window was to, naturally, flip her the bird.
Yes, my mom flicked Sarah off.
She gave her brand-new neighbor the middle finger, and she laughed.
I understand the joy of being able to make yourself laugh, no matter the cost, but I have yet to hear of any other person matching this feat.
What balls my mother had. All in the name of being herself.
Mom did motion for Sarah to meet her outside, and the two women chatted, resulting in the beginning of a very long friendship. My sister and I became friends with Sarah’s sons, our families spent nearly every 4th of July together, and I have many great memories playing with other neighborhood kids in that area between the two houses…
…between the two kitchen windows…
…where my mother decided to flick off our neighbor before she even spoke to her.
It was a joke that paid off, but at what risk?
In retrospect, it wasn’t too terribly risky. If Sarah had been terribly offended and refused to get the joke, then there was no hope for her and my mother to be friends without my mom “faking it” in one way or another.
Instead, my mom was completely herself, and in return, Sarah was also herself. It was a middle finger that really cut through the bullshit.
Maybe we should all be giving out more middle fingers. It could bring us closer together.
I guess there’s only one way to find out, and so far my mom was the only one brave enough to try…