HOLLYWOOD—It happens when you get in a cottage courtyard and stick around long enough: somebody dies who’s been here forever. It happens while the lamp is on and close enough to be heard clear as if someone was rotating a spoon in a bone-china cup. Those who keep moving on as the majority of Americans do (we move on the average of once every five years) are deaf to these reminders of mortality.
Quite a few of my neighbors, to judge from their silence on the matter, are unaware of what happened to Hannah. So let me share it here with you, my newspaper neighbors. There was no getting around it, after always presenting a cheerful mien to the world, Hannah was in a bad way. The spry, congenitally spry, neighbor with the incurable German accent, was on her way out the last couple of weeks.
After being hospitalized for general weakness and a collapsed lung, she was back in her house Monday. Her son-in-law had outfitted a modest bed with bars on the side to keep Hannah from rolling out. The bed was now placed in the living room, where she could watch/listen to German TV.
Four years ago, Hannah’s family took a chance. While recovering from a broken hip and receiving a titanium joint, her family cleared out the debris of half a century. They hoped Mom wouldn’t notice what was missing when she got back. They painted the 530 square foot home, they cleaned and eliminated some furniture. Finally, they brought Hannah home, where she could be with her plants, watch TV (English and German) and drink Heinnekin beer–she loved her beer.
I discovered then that she had a cigarette now and then, too. This vice she shared with her caregiver, and in Hannah’s case it could scarcely be called a vice: she had long past the point when it would have proved mortal for most. This woman at 22 had been a phone operator in Nazi-occupied Paris, and then when the allies recovered Paris, she trudged back to Berlin on foot, and had the moxie to show up at the gate of the American base and offer her cooking services to the winning side.
And she could cook, all right, eventually becoming the pastry chef for the Economic Minister of Algeria. I was the lucky recipient of exquisite meals, from time to time: tender beef shoulder, a little potato salad, a glass of piquant German red wine. Hannah made hands down the best pastry I have ever had; a rich bread full of baked cherries: it was not too sweet so the zesty cherries stuck out.
Hannah was also a magician with the knitting needles. She gave my daughter a Barbie Doll with a crocheted Southern Belle dress.
“Vatever you do, don’t make her say thank you to me,” she said. “I cannot stand when people make children say thank you.”
Hannah had an astringent sense of humor. She was against the grain, a tiny powerhouse, smiling blue eyes in a face criss-crossed by wrinkles. Till very shortly before the end those eyes kept smiling.
The day she got back to occupy the living room, after the final revolving-door hospitalization, I was called upon to unplug the toilet. (The night nurse had stuffed it with wipe-its.) Thankfully, I didn’t have to use the snake.
On my way out, her caregiver said, “It’s your neighbor, Grady.” Hannah glared at me and said, “You aren’t my neighbor. Nein.”
She was regressing to German. I took it in stride, and said, “Auf wiedersehen.” I brushed it off, being used to these delusional lapses that would pass by the next day to be replaced by smiling eyes again.
When I went back a couple days later, along with my dog, to stick my head into Hannah’s, there was her daughter behind the screen door. Hannah appeared to be sleeping on the bed, a beringed finger on her hand drawn close to her face. The steel-gray hair flowed behind. She had died during the full moon; and death had proved an apt mortician. She looked to be at peace.
The dog found something very interesting to sniff had in the carpet at the side of Hannah’s last bed. She was a good neighbor. She will be missed.
Grady Miller is a humorist. “Later Bloomer,” his recent Hollywood story collection is available on AMAZON.