Today I'm attending the memorial service of a wonderful woman and neighbour.
Mrs. Makenzie was my neighbour from the time I was 4 until I was 21. She was a fabulous, vivacious woman who brought great joy to our lives.
She was 100 years old, when she passed away last Sunday.
Neighbours have a pretty important place in our society. Most television programs about family life feature a loving, wacky or mentoring neighbour to add substance. Some of the most well known bible verses are about loving and respecting your neighbour.
For all of that, many people never get to really know their neighbours, and when you do get to know them they can be disappointing. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you get the kind of neighbour that offers lessons, love and understanding.
I was lucky enough to have a neighbour like that, and I want to talk a little bit about her today, and the life lessons she taught me.
I'm sorry in advance that this post is a bit wordy...
1) Welcome people in and you'll never be alone:
When we were little, one of our closest friends lived right around the corner. Mrs Mackenzie was worried about us running around on the road to get to and from each others houses. She insisted that we would walk through her backyard, which connected our two houses.
In years to come, we'd run back and forth across her lawn, saying hello to her as we passed through. When we reached high school, we'd still cut through out of habit (even though it made my friends uncomfortable). She always said that she loved it. "Don't worry about it" she would say, it was wonderful to see us cut through, it made her life more full.
Life is long, if you open your heart and your home (or your yard!) it will never be lonely.
2) You catch more flies with honey:
Mrs Makenzie had no grand kids of her own. Her daughter died young, and her son didn't marry until later in life. So to say she doted on us is a bit of an understatement.
Always letting us play on her lawn when we were little, or skate board on her driveway, she was endlessly kind.
One of the many wonderful things she did was bake us treats for car rides. When we made our annual ski trip to Quebec, the prospect of an 8 hour car ride was less than exciting, especially to young kids. We often left at 5 am to make good time... And there she would be, running out of her house before the sunrise, with White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies, so we would have a treat for our trip.
My siblings and I never forgot that gesture, and in the years to come would rake her lawn, shovel her drive way and respect her like our own grandmother. And she always had cookies.
3) Let Kids be Kids:
We had this neighbour a few doors down on the other side who used to complain we made "calculated noise" to disturb him. I remember once, when I was 10, he complained that a friend and I were making too much noise, playing soccer on the front lawn... at 4pm.
We were rambunctious kids, but no more so than any other kid on the planet. And we grew into rambunctious teenagers, who did things like have parties in the backyard (though not many! honest!)
After one such party, my mom saw Mrs. Makenzie over the driveway hedge, and apologized on my behalf for the noise my friends were making the night before.
"Not to worry dear, I heard a bit of noise but it sounded like they were having a wonderful time"
"yes well, Laura threw quite the party"
"Oh!" she said, (rather famously), "...then this must be yours!" And hands my mother a full beer bottle over the hedge that someone had tossed on her lawn.
We don't know what her plan was with that beer bottle (drink it, perhaps). What I do know is that she was completely ok with us doing the things that kids do. It's just life, and if your peace of mind isn't being constantly assaulted, it's ok to let bygones by bygones.
4) Be Optimistic:
Mrs Makenzie had a pretty rough go of it. She lost her daughter very young, and when we first met her 23 years ago, Mr Makenzie had long since passed away. You would never know talking to her that she had lost so many people (this is a woman who was alive for both World Wars after all), she was unceasingly optimistic.
So much so that around the time of her 90th birthday, she went out and bought a brand new (fairly expensive) car.
As my grandfather put it at the time "I have friends who won't even buy green bananas!"
That optimism clearly paid off, as she would have turned 101 this summer.
5) Take the stairs.
Not many people can claim to have mowed their own lawn into their eighties.
Hell, most people don't mow their lawn into their fifties if they can help it. But Mrs. Makenzie wasn't most people.
When my mother asked her once how she managed to be so healthy into her old age, she gave three reasons.
Reason 1 - Never stop moving. Mrs Makenzie was always gardening, driving the other ladies in the neighbourhood to get their groceries, cleaning, out for walks. She stayed busy!
Reason 2 - Good posture! Second nature for a woman whose formative years were the 1920s, her spine was straight as an arrow and she carried herself with grace.
Reason 3 - Take the stairs. She said that the number one reason she stayed healthy all those years was that her bedroom was on the second floor of her house. Every day, she had to go up and down those stairs a dozen times. She claims that this was the easy secret to her success. Never take an escalator or elevator, when stairs are an option.
It's very sad for me to say goodbye to this fabulous woman. A righteous broad, a loving adopted-grandmother, a bit of a day time drinker, a risk taker, a kind soul.
Rest in Peace "Mrs. Bakenze". We'll miss you.