You've heard me talk about Helen the older but spry woman who lives next door to us in Brooklyn. She was the one that asked me on our first meeting, "You two Catholic?".
Helen has a thick Brooklyn accent. She has lived on this block her entire life. She tells me stories about how we currently live in what used to be her Aunt's house. How all the kids - her cousins used to run from yard to yard by going through doors in the fences their uncles cut out just for them. Those were good times. She misses them.
Helen has lots to say. Sometimes she tells me stories from when she was a 'working girl' for Merrill Lynch. "We didn't used to dress in denim" she once said and looked down at the pair of old jeans I'd thrown on to go to work. Some days she tells us about her knees hurting or how she has Sciatica in 'both butts'. Helen has a lot of advice to share. Especially when hanging laundry, "I'd be careful about leavin' matches out by the grill. The little boys upstairs might get 'em."
Perhaps you recall the story how Helen has created her own story of what she thinks E and I do for a living. She thinks I'm a teacher and that E 'works in computas'. E and I can't quite pinpoint how she came to thinking this. One time E went on a photography adventure in Texas. When he returned she asked me in a low tone, "Did he get the computa job in Texas? Market's hard right now."
Most mornings Helen is out in a nightgown sweeping the entire block's sidewalk. She often wears slippers and picks up cigarette butts and pulls weeds from the cracks. Her grandson lives with her. He works at the airport. I know because she told me how many washings she does a day so he has clean uniforms.
In the winter I hardly see Helen. A sure sign of spring happened this week as I spotted her on my way home from the subway. She was wearing a bright red jacket, had on a little lipstick and her hair was brushed back. She was coming out of her gate middle of the block and just stopped and stared my way squinting until I approached closer.
K: Hello Helen! How are you?
H: Oh hello! Hows things with you?
K: Good. Haven't seen you in a while.
H: I know it's been foreva!
K: Where you off to.
H: Church. You going home for Easta?
K: Yes I'll be going home for Easter.
H: That's nice. My grandson wants to bring his girfriend to dinner.
K: Oh he has a girlfriend! That's nice.
H: I told her a girl should be with her motha on Easta!
K: Yes well...
With that she kept it brief. Before departing she pointed to three Key Food grocery store flyers sitting in a puddle outside my house and said,
H: Here...hand me those...
She stuffed them in the garbage can, put the lid on firmly and was on her way.