Shortly after my husband died last year, someone asked me, “What are you going to do now?”
Pretending not to understand, I asked, “What do you mean?” He thought I’d move. I asked, “Move where?”
I have lived here all my life, except for my college years. Then I attended a school situated along Lake Ontario. The house I occupy was built for my maternal great-grandparents. It is as familiar to me as my face in the mirror.
It is not simply familiarity that keeps me here. It is the people and their warm and kind gestures. I have wonderful doctors who care for me when I need their attention. I live in a walkable neighborhood, important as I age. When I walk, people I do not know and have never met, greet me. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the United States.
My earliest memories are of neighbors willing to help. As a young girl, I suffered a bicycle accident. A neighbor found me unconscious and carried me home. He never let me forget that while in my relaxed state I wet all over him and myself.
Nearly 40 years ago, I needed surgery. Friends and neighbors pitched in to care for my young children. After my father died, people from our neighborhood brought food. Several church members served lunch in my dining room following the funeral.
When our children were teenagers, I planned a surprise birthday party for my husband. Various neighbors stored supplies for me so my husband would not suspect a party and be surprised.
My current next-door neighbor, despite physical problems, often clears snow from my sidewalk. When my lawn mower broke in late fall, he also trimmed my grass near his driveway. After ice damaged a tree in my yard, he sent his brother to help me straighten the heavy evergreen. They insisted I am not a burden. I feel cared for and looked after because of them. How could I leave the City of Good Neighbors?
Caring people have reached out to me in many ways. Before my husband died, I wrote a My View about how we had met at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in front of a Vincent Van Gogh painting. Three weeks after my story appeared, a woman I had never met phoned and said she had a present for me because she was so touched by my story.
I told her I didn’t expect anything and was pleased to know she liked what I had written. She insisted she had to give me something. So I invited her to my house for tea and cookies. She arrived with a huge package wrapped in brown paper. Inside was an oil painting she had done of Van Gogh’s “The Old Mill, 1888,” the very painting that had brought my husband and me together. I cried at her kindness and willingness to be so generous to someone she didn’t know. That painting is displayed on an easel another kind person found for me at an estate sale, a total surprise.
The painter wasn’t the only one who responded to that story. Louis Grachos, the director of the Albright-Knox at the time, sent a lovely print of the same painting. His unexpected and kind gesture also brought me to tears. He may not have been a native of Western New Yorker, but he acted like one.
When I shop, people often hold a door for me or go out of their way to help. I have traveled to other parts of our country and don’t find that kind of concern for others that is prevalent here.
Where should I go? I cannot imagine leaving Western New York and all the generous, caring people who lovingly reach out to offer help to a neighbor or stranger in need. Of course, I wish my children didn’t live so far away in other states. But, I have a family here that I can call upon anytime. That’s why I plan to stay where love resides.