These days I have found that along with the sweet also comes the bitter. Let me start with the good. I received a notification today that a publisher wants a “retain” on one of my stories. That means that they want exclusive rights to it for up to a year. If in that year they publish it I get paid. But if they don’t because I am not a known writer I get a nice note and an “Better Luck Next Time.” Now comes the bitter. I think everybody should have friends of all ages. Because, lets face it we can’t make all of those mistakes by our selves! My friend is Maxine Schwabauer I read this to her and her only comment was “You misspelled my name”. That is typical Maxine. I have changed the story a little but let me share it with you.
In this time and place it seems that everybody has lost the art of communication. A phone in every ear and computers in every house means that talking to the person on the other end is more important, and easier, than talking to the person standing in front of you. Getting to know your neighbor next door or across the street seems to be unheard of.
Everybody has heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, my village was two city blocks wide. On this fairly unremarkable street many unremarkable things happened. People come people go, and kids grow. Among these fairly unremarkable happenings several remarkable things seem to have been put in the mix.
Life lessons were learned, some easy – never gun your car in front of the Garmen’s house because news of it will reach home before you can make it around the corner and park. Some lessons were hard – some marriages don’t last and some just aren’t meant to happen at all. In among these life lessons were woven friendships, joys and of course sorrows.
My first day in my new village a package arrived at our door. It was a plate of cookies, attached to it was a plump happy woman who handed the cookies to my mother and said “Hi, I am Maxine Schwaubauer, I live just down the street. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
Just as my mother took the cookies I came running in the back door. She tried to stop me from knocking down our new friend. “Chris, this is Mrs. Schwaubauer, from down the street. Now what do you say?”
I looked up and found a face that was older than my mom, but the smile she gave was ageless. So putting on my best party manners I tried to say hello and thank you. “Thank you for the cookies Mrs. Shoebaker?”
“No.” My mom said “Mrs. Schwaubauer.” Little did I know that mom had just gone thru an experience of trying to pronounce the name quite similar to what I was attempting to do.
“Mrs. Schwaubauer” the pleasant voice came again and quite slowly. I watched it with all my might willing my young lips and tongue to follow the sounds she was making.
“Mrs. Shinbaker?” I was almost as red as the fire hydrant at the end of the block. I think my mom would have disowned me on the spot had the lady with the unpronounceable name saved the day with what I can only describe a chuckle that took over her whole body. Starting in her throat and it made it all the way from her eyes to her toes. Her whole body seemed to laugh, and it filled the room.
“Sweetie, just call me Maxine!” With that simple sentence she had elevated me to a status unknown to me up to now… I got to call an adult by her FIRST name! I don’t know of any greater honor at that age. The Garmans, the Hendersons, the Sparkses, the Parkers, the Brewers. All names from my past that affected my future. But Maxine was first grown-up that I could call by her first name.
Mom invited my new friend in for what would be the first in an endless succession of cups of coffee. Mom found out that Maxine was from Iowa and that her husband was from South Dakota not too far away from where my dad grew up. The conversation I think went on for hours.
Dad would always get a weekly newspaper from “Back Home” and after he read it he would fold it up stick it in a pocket and head to Maxine and Jerry’s. Another life lesson learned –when both of your husbands work nights it is perfectly normal to start a pinnacle game at two o’clock in the morning. It is also perfectly all right to run up (or down) the street in a bathrobe and slippers. That is if it isn’t raining – if it is an umbrella or jacket held over your head may be added to the outfit without fear of taking fashion too far! This trip is usually preceded by a phone call that asked “Is the coffee pot on?” and sometimes it just came at the front window – a bony finger taps and asking “Is the coffee pot on?”
After Maxine and Jerry moved to California the question was asked over a phone spanning a couple of thousand miles, the cups of coffee were not from the same pot but the conversation was shared and that is what mattered most. Lately the question has been asked on a phone that only spans a couple of yards but the question was always the same “Is the coffee pot on?”
One more life lesson I learned was that it is fine to argue a point with a friend even if you both know you will never agree. Because you know that after a disagreement the question will come again “Is the coffee pot on?”
Sometimes no amount of coffee can help. One example is that awful Halloween when Jerry went on to heaven. No amount of words were enough but the arms that were there to give comfort and support from our house to theirs needed no words, and years later when Dad left this world the arms and comfort were there again for us. When Mom joined the group in Heaven the arms though somewhat older held the same love and helpfulness.
I would like to thank the Schwabauer family, no matter what the names became – Nelson, Parker or if it stayed Schwabauer I want to thank you all for letting the branches of your family tree for the love, protection and most of all the friendship that your tree cast on the village I grew up in.
No icon or ringtone can substitute for the feeling of protection, friendship and sharing in the place where I grew-up.
So instead of a smiley face or a heart shaped “emoticon” I think I will always prefer the friendliest of invitations -“Is the coffee pot on?”
Along with the notice that I will be put on “retained” I found that my friend has been moved to a hospice. I think in the near future if you listen very carefully you might just hear an angel chorus of “Is the coffee pot on?” But let us hope is not too soon. I love you Maxine Schwabauer, or as I have said in the past “My Other Mother!”