Sunday, September 30, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Knowing Someone


My family and I have lived in our house--at 328 N. L_____----for 25 years. For that same amount of time, or maybe longer, a family named the Southwicks have lived in the same town at 328 S. L_______, and for all these years, we have gotten some of their mail, and they have gotten some of ours.
  Sometimes the mail of theirs that comes to us has the right address (328 South), and sometimes it has the wrong address (328 North). When we first started getting their mail, we would simply make a note on the envelope (no such addressee) and return it to the mail slot.

At some point, several years into the 25 in this house, there was a breakthrough. It may have been the time that I was waiting on pins and needles for a FedEx package from a client, and I had a tight deadline for dealing with what it contained. All day I waited, checking the porch every few minutes, looking out my front window, eventually calling the client to see what had happened. But then the phone rang, and it was a man, Bill Southwick, saying that he had received a FedEx package for me, that he was at 328 South, and that he would bring it right over. That's a good neighbor.
     Over the years, we built on this experience. One time, the Southwicks got a bouquet of flowers that was intended for my daughter and brought it to us. One time, we got a big, beautiful holiday package that was intended for them and took it right over. Sometimes we got something for them that looked like junk mail, but we would call to make sure before we recycled it. Sometimes we ordered a cab and it would show up at their house. Our phone calls to each other about these things would be brief, but always friendly. We'd laugh as we identified ourselves to each other as "your reverse mirror image" or "polar opposite" or whatever other names we came up with.
     One time, I saw a story in the local paper about them, that their daughter had died while on a business trip to China, and they could not find out how she had died. It was an unimaginably difficult situation, and I wrote them a sympathy note. A few years later, they started a foundation in support of the arts in their daughter's name, and I made a donation. Judy Southwick, for that was the name of the woman in the house, wrote me a personal note thanking me. A few years ago, Judy wrote me a note telling me that she had read my novel and that she enjoyed it very much. Throughout it all, the mail continued to flow to the wrong houses.
Perhaps a year or two ago, a letter came to our house for Judy, and the return address indicated that it was from the oncology department of one of Chicago's hospitals. This gave me a bad feeling--wondering why the doctor would not have the correct address, knowing that whatever this letter contained would be important information for the Southwicks, feeling certain that Judy would not want just anyone to know she was getting a letter from an oncology department. I took the letter over immediately and slipped it through their mail slot, and I worried about Judy.
     About a week ago, we returned from vacation and we were going through all the mail and newspapers that had accumulated, and I saw Judy's obituary in our local paper. She died of cancer while we were away, and the memorial service had already occurred. It's an odd thing, to simultaneously know someone and not. If someone said to me, "Do you know the Southwicks?" I am not entirely sure what the short answer would be.


4 comments:

Margaret P. said...

What an incredibly moving, and interesting, story.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks, dear. It's an odd thing, the way we're all together in this world, stumbling upon each other in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

As my gardener told me when one of the shrubs died that was purchased at the same time as the rest of them, "There are some things for which there is no explanation." That doesn't mean there isn't a reason. Such a non-explanation brought you and the Southwick's together and we cannot question those reasons.

Welcome back! Hope your vacation was swell!

Rose Sigman rasirds@cox.net

Susan Messer said...

Well, this certainly sound true. The world is full of inexplicable and unclassifiable things. Good to hear from you. Thanks so much.