Mrs. G's grandparents had a neighbor named May who lived five houses down from their brick ranch in Frayser. May was thin, brittle thin, and wore a troubling, roaming wig that was the same color as her skittish dog Cappy. Cappy was a Schipperke, a breed Mrs. G. has neither seen nor heard from since the days of May. Cappy went everywhere with May, and May, a nautical wear enthusiast, liked to keep one red patent leather loafer on the road. She would cruise up and down West Lakeland Drive, Cappy in the passenger's seat of her maroon Cutlas Supreme, several times a day, unaware she was under the constant surveillance of one Ramelle Henderson, Mrs. G's grandmother, who got up out of her chair, walked across the room and looked out the living room window to monitor every car that went up or down her street. Mrs. G's grandmother, a nearly impenetrable, private person unless it was your privacy that required penetrating, was less into Neighborhood Watch and more into Neighborhood Stalk. If anything was going down on West Lakeland Drive, it would not be on her beat.
As far as Mrs. G. could tell, May's biggest transgression was, according to Mrs. G's grandmother, being a lush. At least once a week when May drove up the street, Mrs. G's grandmother could see the outline of the cardboard box from Tinky's Liquors and the narrow heads of six bottles of vodka sticking out of it. Mrs. G's grandmother didn't truck with booze. You were borderline alcoholic if you consumed two beers or six liters of vodka.
May was Mrs. G's grandmother's friend in the loosest sense of the word. Back to the subject of privacy as long as it wasn't yours...Mrs. G's grandmother kept friends at arm's length. Loyal and true, her family was her main concern and she roped them off inside the confines of an emblematic boxing ring. Family stayed in, strangers and friends stayed out.
May's second biggest transgression was calling Mrs. G's grandmother after 7:00pm (uncivilized unless someone was dead, not injured: dead) and carrying on about being a lonely widow, the difficulty of cooking for one and the new sailor suit with brass buttons she bought Cappy. If May was sober, Mrs. G's grandmother would listen patiently for approximately six minutes. If May was drunk, Mrs. G's grandmother would hang up quickly and not speak to May again for one week. She just wouldn't have it.
"I've got no time for her mess," Mrs. G's grandmother would say. "No time." If she was really angry, she would follow it up with, "I don't know why it's so hard to cook for one when you're drinking your supper!"
Mrs. G. always felt sorry for May when she was banished for a week. The phone would ring and ring and ring, and Mrs. G's grandmother would snort and say, "Pour yourself another one, Maise, because I'm not picking up the DAMN PHONE!"
Mrs. G's grandfather just shook his head and stayed out of it.
This borderline cruel, feckless dance went on for years. It appeared to work for them as it rarely wavered. It was as carefully planned and deliberate as a Box Step.
The only reprieve May had from this habitual routine was the neighborhood Saturday night potluck and card game. She was invited no matter where she was in the punishment cycle. Denying May access to the neighborhood gathering was a line, for whatever reason, Mrs. G's grandmother wasn't willing cross. All of West Lakeland Drive would gather at Mrs. G's grandparents house for an evening of food and games. Some of Mrs. G's best childhood memories revolve around these evenings. Grudges over who needed to mow their lawn and slights over whose dog was barking too late at night were tabled, and everyone broke bread and played penny poker.
And May, rain or shine, brought her infamous "seafood" casserole. Infamous because many of the neighbors who managed to choke it down, suffered for days. No one really knew what was in it and no one ever asked because, as we all know, some things are better left unexplained.
Despite the odd dynamic of their friendship, Mrs. G. witnessed her grandmother do something every Saturday night that intimated she cared more for May than she was willing to let on. Halfway through the evening, Mrs. G's grandmother would covertly dig to the bottom of her trash can, dump May's seafood casserole and then cover it up with other garbage. At some point during the evening, May would return to her empty casserole dish and say, "Well, I guess you all liked it, but it's always a hit." Everyone would play along and May would take her empty casserole dish home like a prize, happy, and likely thinking about what she would include to perk it up next week: smoked clams? catfish chunks? The world was her oyster.
Mrs. G's grandmother and May were neighbors for well over 20 years. If May wasn't under Vodka Probation, they spoke to each other daily. It was a friendship that astonishingly sustained them both. Neither one of them had heard of boundaries or codependency. They simply practiced a slightly tweaked, adjusted version of love thy neighbor. And as the luckiest among us know, love is a tricky, wily, unpredictable but beautiful, beautiful bastard.