My earliest memories of my childhood were when I was in my crib. There were three tiny plastic figures that were on a bar which coursed through their circumference so that they could spin when they were moved. The crib had wooden slats in the bottom and I used to escape by turning up the end of the mattress and sneaking down through the slats to the floor. This confounded my mother since she could never figure out how I did this.
Once, I heard my mother talking to Helen about this. You see, Helen lived in the same house that I did. She lived on the other side of the walls that divided our house in half. She was there with her husband Ted and her two sons, Thad and Bob. The conversation that took place between Helen and my mom was on the back porch, which also had a railing about 3 feet high through the middle. Autonomy was the watchword of the “company house”. And as they talked, each sitting on their own side of the porch, they looked past the “out” buildings.
Each company house in Smock had a long out building that had four doors. The two doors on the left belonged to the left side of the house and the two doors on the right belonged to...well you know what I mean. The doors were, from left to right, coal shed, outhouse, outhouse, coal shed. They were painted the same green color as our house until it was painted brown with white trim around the windows.
Beyond the outbuildings were the “ball field” behind our big house and then woods that, as a child, I felt went straight up to heaven, but in reality, it just went to Constantine’s farm.
Helen and Margie would sit there for hours in the spring, summer and fall and talk about many things. Most of the time, they would get quiet when I showed up or the question would be raised “Where in the hell have you been?” My customary answer was “out” or "playing with Bob" who is Helen's son.
As a child, there were few things I really knew about Helen. She was a great cook, baker, housekeeper, mother and Christmas tree decorator. And she had a heart of solid gold.
I probably met Helen when I was three or four years old, but my memory is only good for the things IT wants to remember.
I could bore you with the countless Helen stories that I remember, but I am just going to say this; Helen was like a mother to me. And because of some of my life's situations, she proved it in thousands of different ways. And every time I would visit her through all of the decades, she had that smile. And that loving voice, which would become stern if she felt that I needed to be corrected on something.
Helen died early this morning. She was in her 80's. And let me assure you that when I would get in the mood to write one of these 40 something stories about my little town, one of the first faces that my mind's eye would see is Helen and that dear smile of hers.
So Ted, your wife Helen is home tonight. And I don't know what she's made for dinner but I know that it will be wonderful. And YOUR Christmas tree will shine brighter than any other this December, because Helen is home.
Oh "Neighbor", I am going to miss you so much.