I was one of dozens of kids in my neighborhood. Really, our neighborhood consisted of two streets worth of families, so everybody knew everybody despite a gap in ages from toddler to high school. And we kids had room to roam! From yard to yard and field to field, we knew all of the secret hideout spots and the off-road shortcuts. And because summer days were jam packed with play, it seemed like every mother at every house, kept a watchful eye on who was where and headed in which direction on behalf of all of the moms. It was 1975 and a very different America. Kids didn’t have play dates and were never confined to a single house or yard, rather we were like crazy little animals, running from here to there without informing the adults when we were moving on to another yard with a bigger barn to play in, or down to Shawger’s pond to fish for sunnies, or into old man Knoll’s field to play tag. There were nights where we were back out after supper until well after dark with a good game of flashlight tag or catching lightening bugs. It was hard keeping up when I was real little, chasing after the older kids who always seemed to be headed to the fort in the woods. We would, as a group, and picking up more kids as we hustled down the street, always end up at the tall gray house at the end of the street. The Wilson house. Four kids lived there, all of whom were older than David and I. The youngest, Stanley, was one of our immediate playmates. There wasn’t a day that went by that we weren’t begging Stanley’s Mom to let him come out with us. There came a point when I was about 5 or 6, that despite Stanley having completed chores and being allowed to grab his baseball glove and lead our gang back up the street, that I preferred to stay behind with Stanley’s mother.
Babs Wilson was a beacon of light. My earliest memory of Mrs. Wilson is me getting to play with and choose a kitten to call my own out of a big covered basket she wore on her forearm. The litter had been born in the spring under her front porch, and I was being offered first choice. That, in my opinion, would have gotten her Sainthood status right then and there. But there was a lifetime more. I would come to know Babs for these random acts very often. She seemed to always be giving of herself, and only looking in return for you to smile. There was a tiered fruit basket which hung from a hook on the ceiling in her kitchen. Instead of apples or oranges, it was filled with Sugar Daddy’s and taffy. Getting to pick a treat from that basket meant helping Mrs. Wilson in her garden, or feeding her birds, or talking nicely to her fish in her little pond. Those were all good deeds that warranted treats. Stanley thought I was a dope for always wanting to hang around with his mother rather than the gang or my own Mom for that matter. But time spent with Babs was fun, and seemed to always go by so fast. We would write short poems for my mother, do crafts, cut flowers from the hedge, and explore the attic where there always seemed to be treasures to discover. One gift that Babs gave to me when I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, was a pair of Woolworth tennis shoes she had embroidered by hand. Butterflies, bees, flowers, a seashell or two….the shoes had it all! And they were made for ME. In this life, I will NEVER forget those shoes. I wore them until they had holes. And I visited with her well after my college years were over and even after the purchase of my first home. But because I moved so far away, I seldom stopped in to see her on my way home from work. I wasn’t even aware of her passing until her eldest daughter found a phone number for my Mom, by now living in Charleston, and shared the news of her death. Babs had a passion for flowers, and every spring, her roadside beds along Madisonville were abundant with daffodils. THOUSANDS OF THEM. In between the pachysandra, their little heads would erupt the soft earth, and folks from all over would actually stop their cars to take pictures or walk the paths among the beds.
There was a place for Mrs. Wilson that, when she was there, she was at her happiest. That place was the Jersey shore. Only once did my family take the journey upon invitation to Wildwood for the weekend to stay with Babs and the kids so we could live at the beach for the day and enjoy the ice cream parlors and shell shops along the strand at night. The house was awesome. It was decorated with shells; mirrors framed with shells, shell bowls on the tables in the living room, shells on the steps leading to the front door. It was magical. It was also the only time I got to see her in her element. A pink gelee beach chair and a big hat. I will always remember her happiest this way.