Miss Mary

“Would you like to pet my dog?”

Yes, Gentle Reader, looking back I now realize the question sounds like it came from the mouth of a seven-year-old.

But that query fell from the lips of this loquacious scribbler three years ago.

Which was the very first day I took Crowley, our brand new puppy, for his very first walk.

My street is very small, but there are two neighborhoods very close to us.  This was where I’d decided to do the dog walk thing. 

The first development is one quiet, shaded, U-shaped street.  There are mature cypress trees everywhere.  The houses were built in the early sixties.  Until about 1995, it was still unpaved.

Most of the houses are still occupied by the original owners.  Back when the neighborhood was young, in almost every house there lived at least a couple of kids.  The streets that rang with the shouts and laughter of children in the 1960s and 70s now host sporadic visits from grand-and even great-grandkids of that first generation.

That morning with Crowley, I had just turned onto the last leg of the “U”.

There was an older man working out in the yard. I could tell he found my new pooch completely captivating (dog people recognize each other), so that’s when I asked the infamous question.

Turns out his name was Mr. LP, and he did want to meet my fuzzy, adorable boy.  He also wanted to play with him, talk to him, talk about him, and introduce him to his wife, Miss Mary.

Mr. LP told me that he’s always liked dogs but his wife was the hard-core, take no prisoners dog lover of the family.  After that first day we became friends and when they were on the porch when we were out, we’d stop and talk a spell.  Crowley adores them.

The first spring and throughout the summer I discovered that Miss Mary’s green thumb was the size of a pup tent.  A florist could make a mint with the volume, quality and variety of the blooms out front.

Out back is the vegetable garden, every year equally as beautiful as it is bounteous.  It’s like a tiny, adorable farmer’s market.

A couple of years ago, I brought her some paw-paws, a fruit native to North Carolina that’s a  member of the passion fruit family.  It looks like a chayote and is sweet and tastes of tropic-grown citrus and vanilla. 

She hadn’t seen or tasted a paw-paw since she was a child.

Last summer she took me out to the garden and showed me this enormous pawpaw bush.  I thought I had inspired her to get a plant, but I was wrong.

The year before she’d thrown the remains of the fruit I’d bought her into the garden as compost.  The bush had just sprung up, she said.

It was taller than the top of my head.

From trash.  Miss Mary casually threw an eaten fruit on the ground and a healthy, pawpaw bush sprung up.  Growing really sweet and tasty snacks.  

In 1951, Miss Mary was 16 and she and Mr. LP had been dating for six months. 

“I was sitting with Mary on her mama’s couch.  And I said, ‘Mary, can I ask you a question? Do you think we should get married?’”Mr. LP smiles before he says, “And Mary said, ‘yeah, yeah I think we should.’”

2020 is their seventieth year of marriage. 

I am furious one day when she tells me that when she got married, she was thrown out of her high school because, as her principal told her, “You are a wife now.  Go home.”  She’s philosophical about it, telling me that’s how it worked back then, no one even questioned it.

In the time I’ve known her, I have never heard a harsh tone, or a strong thing said against another.  She’s the sort of person that when they say, “Bless her heart” they mean it.  By that, I mean that they sincerely want that person’s heart to be blessed.

Miss Mary passed last week.  Honestly, she was already an angel.  Her kindness will inspire and fortify my own humanity forever.  My heart breaks for Mr. LP, their three daughters, and the rest of the family.  She was a five-foot tall walking heart, topped with a crown of curly, silver hair.

She was a giant.

Mary Elizabeth Spell
December 5, 1934 – August 30, 2020

Thank you Miss Mary.

And

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.