Our old (in both senses) neighbour is in hospital. Even though we were only next door to them for three years, we became close. They were the grandparents our kids didn't have close by, always happy to have them hang out with them, ready stash of biscuits on hand. They have their own children and grandchildren with whom they are close, but none living very near. We also have a wonderful wide family, but they too lived away from us. So we adopted each other for those years we were neighbours, and it was wonderful.
Monty was born and raised in England, Rosa in Poland before the war tore her family apart and spelled the end to the childhood she should have had. They met here in Sydney as young adults, both going to the synagogue in Bondi, soon marrying and raising their family in the house in which they still live, the house next door to our first home. We shared our family traditions with each other, gained a different perspective that we hadn't encountered before. It has been such a rewarding friendship for us all.
Rosa has dementia now, so we weren't sure she'd recognise us today. My youngest daughter came with me to see them, and we prepared ourselves for this possibility. We arrived to find them sitting alongside each other in chairs, hands clasped together and both quietly snoozing. It was a relief to see her face light up right away when they roused and saw us. We sat and talked for a long while, and then I shared with them my idea. My idea for a book. Finally, an idea for a book!
Would she share some of the events of her own childhood with me, and allow me to then share them in a story? My idea is to tell the story of Rosa's childhood alongside that of my daughter at the same age. I'm not sure she really understood the concept, but she looked at my daughter and pulled a frowning face, saying, "I had a very sad childhood. It was filled with tears. But you know, at one time I forgot how to cry. I forgot to cry. Can you imagine that?"
Her words haven't left me. I can't imagine how to better put her story than in her own words. It turns out she wrote something of this time herself, some years ago, and they are happy to share these words with me too. Knowing she is losing her precious memories, losing her words, even if we write it only for ourselves it feels like it has to be written.
Although I write a lot, I've always been chasing ideas, playing with them, waiting for one of them to call out to me, to call out to be followed. This one is doing that.
Now, I just have to write it.