I first noticed the gold limousine when I stuck my nose out front to judge that morning's weather. Initially, I thought perhaps Mr. Mel, the older man who lives across the street, had treated himself to a Groupon and was going to be chauffeured all around Baltimore like a king just for kicks. But soon, unfamiliar figures arrived, lining their cars behind the limo. They emerged dressed in black and greeted each other with quiet handshakes and hugs.
All the same this funeral flock was a lovely sight to watch. The young, fresh and tidy taking somewhat sophisticated steps into the reality of life. The old, a bit beaten, but bold, relying on others to steady them to do this yet again. It was comforting to see Mr. Mel had more than physical shelter from the storms.
As time passed, I began to wonder for whom they all gathered. I worried, perhaps, it was Mr. Mel's son who I had seen visiting from time to time. I considered calling out to even those I did not know, but hesitated. Shouting, "Hey, who died?" across the yellow lines was probably not proper, after all.
Mr. Mel had yet to be seen, but I knew he was being well cared for, no matter who was gone. His friends and relatives enveloped him. Some entered his home from the front while others walked around back. I pictured him sitting inside at a table with a checkered cloth, drinking tea, all of their hands on his somber shoulders.
After our morning routine of coffee and Candyland, my youngest and I prepared to color the sidewalks. Mr. Mel's door opened just as ours did and I searched for him in the small crowd. As the mourning wave flowed down the yard it was he who saw me first. Following his lead, I walked toward him and we met in the middle of the street. I gave him a big hug and kissed his freckled cheek.
"Mel, what happened?"
"I lost my mother. She was 102." His words were calm and proud.
"God bless her," I said looking right into his eyes and then nodded to those looking on.
I suppose we did make an odd looking pair, the two of us, in the middle of the road. Mr. Mel is a tall, black man, a retired police officer, who smokes a pipe while he waters his lawn. I like to think of him as a social Boo Radley who watches over my family during the day.
"You know what my mother said?" Mr. Mel egged me on.
"Tell me, what did she say?"
"She said keep looking out for those little girls."
I was stunned. "No, she didn't," I remarked, unsure how she knew. Perhaps she had seen my daughters draw chalk, or ride bikes, or smile and wave at Mr. Mel. But, I didn't remember seeing her.
He smiled. "She did indeed. And I will."
After another strong hug, I watched him walk back in his dark gray suit. As he turned to settle into the car I took note of his bright crisp, white shirt and dapper red bow tie. A big little boy all dressed up for his momma. My heart sat sad, yet soared.
They say "good fences, make good neighbors," but I think standing face to face makes better ones. Mr. Mel's mom, you must have been one special person. Your son certainly is.
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