Bye bye buddy
By Lynette Majer
Kate up and died early one morning last November. In my groggy sleep, I was vaguely aware of an engine running, a thumping down the stairs, and then a half whir of a siren.
Kate was my neighbor, and the best kind of neighbor one could have. She’d feed the cats and take care of the dog. If she didn’t have milk, I did, and she’d show up at the door, coffee cup in hand, laughing at her morning robe, flannels and slippers. If I didn’t have milk, she did: “Come on up,” she’d say, and even if I only needed a cup, she’d offer the carton. I called her once for something I can’t remember, and she was out. “Go in and look,” she said. “Take whatever you want.” Kate was that kind of neighbor.
She’d knock on the back door on the way down to do laundry, hugging a pile of clothes, “Hi Lynette!” she’d smile, and laugh again about her “uniform.” We’d chat for a bit about this and that, if the dogs needed walking or playing; just neighborly chitting and chatting. For the most part, Kate always smiled, and she always laughed, even when her mom was dying, even though she’d been out of work for quite some time, and even though another neighbor occasionally caused her tears.
I opened the door once to Kate, and she introduced me to her best friend, Kirsten. Kate had told me about Kirsten, their single life in San Diego, how they met both their husbands together, how sad she had been when Kirsten moved back East. “I just wanted to introduce you,” she said, beaming, clearly so happy with Kirsten’s visit, “We’re going out – I just cooked this chicken – would you like the other half?”
Kate talked easily with anyone and everyone. When we went together to look at an open house across the street, by the time we left, the real estate agent not only knew everything about our building, but when we’d all moved in. She worried that she’d embarrassed me, and I assured her she hadn’t. In reality, I envied her easygoing ability, wishing I could strike up conversations with strangers so effortlessly.
Although she would gladly look after the house whenever we were gone, I suspected she actually spent time there, and maybe even poked around. I came home early from a trip once to open my front door and find Kate walking out from my bedroom. “Hi!” she said unfazed. I think she may have even said I startled her. Another time, when I went to pour some Frangelica, out came water, and I laughed. I couldn’t help but think she was surely joking. A friend asked incredulously if any of that bothered me, and I said, “You know, if it were anyone else but Kate, it would.”
When we adopted Walden, our people-loving bichon-poodle from Pets Unlimited a few years back, Kate fell in love with him too. She’d practically beg to take him for walks or to come up and visit. “Little Man,” her nickname for him, loved her too, forgetting every manner he ever learned as he became accustomed to his mid-afternoon cottage cheese treat. Kate confessed that she had once considered offering us the price of a deeded parking space in the City for Little Man.
Kate and her husband, Steve, eventually adopted Violet, an adorable one-ear-up, one-ear-down terrier mix. Now when she came to the door, she’d often be holding Violet: “I love her so much,” she’d say, but her love for Walden didn’t wane. Walden and Violet became BFFs, with frequent walks and play dates. I still see Kate’s smiling face, so thoroughly, obviously satisfied when she said, “Now I have the best of both worlds!”
And of course Kate was enthusiastic as only Kate could be of my work here on the paper. She’d smile and say nice things like, “Wow, you really make sure what everyone writes reads OK, and correct spelling and grammar? That’s great!” “You’re the editor now? Congratulations!” “You’re really writing about me? Gosh, Lynette, that’s so nice of you. Thanks, buddy.” I know that’s what she’d say.
On the brightest, sunniest, warmest spring day of this year, a small group gathered on the boat Kitty Kat to bid a final farewell to Katie. Standing next to the rail and holding Violet tightly, I helped scatter her ashes into the bay, followed by fresh spring flowers. When I heard Kirsten say, “Bye bye, buddy,” I remembered that Kate had called me “buddy” too. It was then I realized she really had been much more than just my neighbor.