Blustery Rain. Blistering Sun. Snowy showers.
Nora walked her pup.
Four or five times daily I'd pass her in the neighborhood. Our neighborhood.
Each pass, I'd wave. Nora would smile and wave back.
Occasionally - rarely - I'd not be hurrying to a lesson, game or event. I'd spot Nora - with her silver hair and arduous gait - gripping her pup's leash as she walked around the block. I'd slow down, lower the squeaky car window, and call out a greeting as our dogs barked at each other.
How are you? Such a gorgeous day! Will it ever start/stop snowing?
Nora would nod. Smile her sweet smile and walk on.
You now know as much about Nora as I did, dear Reader.
I cannot remember the sound of her voice.
I cannot remember the name of her dog. Because I probably never asked the name of her dog.
Sad truth be told, I only learned that Nora was terminally ill a day or two before she died.
Never made it to the hospital to say goodbye.
REWIND to July: I am driving past Nora's empty house when I discover a tall, slender woman standing in the driveway, unsuccessfully coaxing a giant canine out of her car.
Think Barbra Stanwyck in skinny jeans and a tee, sunlight glowing all over her gorgeous gray hair.
I step out of my car and Giant Canine no longer needs coaxing. He leaps from car seat, over lawn and onto lap, before I can utter 'hello'.
Barbra Stanwyck rushes over to pull Kujo (I mean Lito - I did ask his name) off me. Fully slobbered but unharmed, I reach for the lady's outstretched hand, feeling suddenly transported to L.A. Boulder. Sedona.
This woman is cool. Bohemian awesome.
"Hey. I'm Carol," she says. "Winnie's cousin from Taos. I'm here for a while to go through the house."
Taos. Makes perfect sense.
But Winnie? Who's Winnie?
Turns out Winnie is Nora, dear Reader, as she was endearingly known to family and friends. I never knew Winnie, because it wasn't until ten months after she died - childless and alone - that I finally met Nora.
REWIND to August: I am stepping over boxes, tools, shovels and ladders in Nora's garage; en route to the dining room where I plan to help Carol pack up the stuff of her cousin's life.
I have never been in this house and feel like an intruder as I walk from kitchen to living room. Tiles are scratched. Furniture is pilled. Oriental rugs are faded. Tables and shelves are laden with dusty china figurines, tea cups and silver.
I scarcely see these things.
I see books. New books. Old Books. Really Old Books. Stacked on rugs, shelves, tables.
I see walls adorned with faded murals. Dozens of framed paintings and prints resting on couch cushions, rocking chairs and ottomans.
I see a ukulele. A guitar. Tambourines and maracas. Stacks of sheet music and original scores that slip from carpet to floorboards.
And a grand piano baking in frosted streaks of sunshine that pour from two windowed walls behind it.
Nora was a musician.
For hours, as I listen to Carol's remarkable memories and turn the pages of old books and music, I am utterly overwhelmed at the very idea of Nora.
How is it possible that I passed my neighbor for nine years, offering a pleasantry here and there, while utterly unaware of the incredible richness - and solitude - of her life.
Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader. I'd like you to meet Nora as I met Nora.
Her love of music and all things French:
Her love of Christmas and the Von Trapps! (This is a critical detail, dear Reader, as I am rather fond of Christmas and the Von Trapps. All Great Rulers are.)
FACT: Just around the corner, in a silent, dusty house where my neighbor lived a lifetime, I learned a few lessons of a lifetime.
Lesson 1: Neighbors who are simply neighborly may be missing out, majorly.
Say that six times fast.
FACT: Nora had memories to share, stories to tell. I could have asked. I could have listened. I could have noticed more than her kind smile, silver hair and arduous gait. I could have briefly paused my life, and learned more about the life of my neighbor.
Loaned her my children. For a week.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
It's possible that if I'd taken the time to engage Nora, she may not have wanted to be engaged. It's also possible that I might have come to know Nora as Winnie - a bright, interesting, talented woman, who was passionate about literature, music, art, travel.
And what else?
My chance to know Nora has passed. But I'm grateful that I caught a glimpse of her in the stories Carol shared; in the furniture, artwork, and trinkets she loved.
Nora's spirit will live on in our neighborhood - in my home, in fact - whenever I read one of the books she collected or press the old keys of the sun-stained piano she played for decades.
At Nora's estate sale, I purchased that relationship.
How I wish I had cultivated it years before. In Person. Instead.
QUING Hereby Decrees: Neighbors who are simply neighborly may be missing out, majorly.
Stay tuned for Lesson 2....