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I Remember Christine

Loss of neighbor still breaks my heart after 50+ years.

She's been gone for more than 50 years, but I remember Christine.

I grew up in a predominately Polish/Italian neighborhood on the east side of Detroit, where streets run in a grid and you can identify where you live as your "block."  I like to joke that some of my neighbors could not afford to "buy a vowel" for their last name.  We did not have much, but we had fun.

As a little kid, I was allowed to go wherever I liked, as long as I stayed on our block.  That meant that I could visit as many neighbors and friends as I wanted, as long as I did not cross a street.

One door down was a family with 4 boys, 2 dogs and a very prolific cat.  They had a big side lot that was suitable for softball games, Red Rover, games of "tag" and chasing fireflies.  They had a cherry tree that was perfect for climbing and making pies.  It was a fun place to go.

The mom of the family was Christine, and I loved her.  She was a lot younger than my mom, and, having 4 boys, I think she enjoyed my company.

I was a "girlie-girl" who wore ribbons and bows and pink patent leather shoes.  To play in a sandbox.

My mom used to let me walk over to visit Christine, who allowed me to "help" with her daily chores and housework.  She taught me to fold washcloths and match pairs of socks.  We talked.  I remember sitting opposite her while she gently dressed her baby, Donnie, and pulled his tiny socks onto his tiny feet.

The older boys were in school.  I had Christine all to myself.  I was 6.

Christine was wonderful.  She baked a special little cake for every kid in the neighborhood for their birthdays.  Girls like me got one with a little doll stuck in the middle, dressed in a frilly gown custom-designed with colorful frosting!  I used to sit at the family's kitchen table and watch her create these masterpieces...using a little baggie made of waxed paper and an incredible level of artistry and skill.

If she was so wonderful to the neighborhood kids, can you even imagine how wonderful she was to her own family?

One day, I went upstairs and found my mother, face down on her bed, sobbing.  I had never seen her in such a condition.  She told me that Christine had died.  She told me that Christine had been expecting a baby, and that the baby had died, too.  The baby was a girl.

I did not understand death.

I knew that I would never get another special cake with a special doll, dressed up in frosting, just for me.

I knew that Donnie could not put on his own socks.

The boys grandmother came up to cook and keep house, and pretty soon, the boys dad found a wonderful woman with two kids and pretty soon, our neighborhood had its own version of "Yours, Mine and Ours."

I remember watching Donnie cuddle with his new mom while the rest of us were running, playing and swimming.  I will always be grateful to her.

In adulthood, Donnie ended his own life.  I don't know the circumstances.  I don't know how you recover from losing your mom before you can dress yourself, even if a really nice lady steps in and does all she can to help.

I'm not a particularly religious person and I don't know what happens to people when they die.  I'm hoping that, wherever he is, Donnie is with BOTH of his wonderful moms.

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Chris K September 02, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I am lucky to have had a Christine in my life too who no longer lives in Detroit but with whom I visit whenever I am passing through the west side of the state. She told me the last time I saw her that she always felt and feels that special connection to me. Today these sorts of relationships don't evolve; if they occur at all they are organized, not spontaneous. Much like all of our kids athletic activities.
Marcia Robovitsky September 02, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Wow...Memories. There are six kids in my family and we all have different memories of mom and dad and what was important to us while growing up. Listening to my brothers and sisters memories were so different from mine it made me wonder if we had the same parents. I guess our parents made us each feel important in our own special way. :) My husband and I were blessed with our only child when we were in our 40's. Our son loves us, but it was his "PA" (grandfather) whom he adored and bonded with immediately. They spent hours in the motor home from the time he was three pretending they were in Colorado, while they were really at a nearby park. The barn was a place for "projects" and the glider on the driveway was where they would rock and talk about anything and everything. "PA" passed away at the end of May in his sophomore year in high school. How did my son handle the death of a loved one? His final exams that year were a disaster. Some year end projects were late. He spent time in his room playing video games. He didn't want to go to school for the year end festivities. He cried. We all cried. We hugged and "remembered" and we made many new fun memories. But he still missed "PA". September came with a new school year, but still sadness. Recognizing those sad and difficult times in others, even years after the actual event is important. Our ever changing life situations still seek out kindness and understanding from others. Strive to be happy.
Jenny Greenwell September 03, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Thanks, Amy. I can't believe you are old enough to remember Penny Candy...I used to skip my 2-cent milk at lunch to "save up" for a couple of pieces of penny candy from a little "mom & pop" store on the walk home. It's a wonder I have any teeth! Love the memory! thanks!
Jenny Greenwell September 03, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Sounds like a relationship worth the effort to maintain. Thanks for writing.
Jenny Greenwell September 03, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Some people do better with death than others. They say it takes about 3 years to work through the "stages" of grief. In fact, of people who live to be 100, they tend to share a common ability to "shake off" grief. I guess they'd HAVE TO! I don't cry anymore, but I miss my parents, and I miss the friends I've lost. I always will, and many will always be "with me," as will their survivors.

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