Nancy and Jon Part 1

The truth is I’ve been having writer’s block. And I’ve been writing, but it’s been a block of crap. So I kept writing, just pushing through. Sigh. My life seems to waiver between way too interesting and way too mundane to share. But I’ll try to give you just a little bite of what’s been interesting to me in the last couple of weeks. Is it better to write and have the quality be lower, or to not write and just wait until I feel like it’s good enough? What do you think?

In my neighborhood there are the most terribly interesting people. You can’t even begin to imagine the depth and complexity of these people. The reason I know you can’t imagine it, is because I live here and I still can’t fully understand these people’s lives. I know some people better than others, but most of them I know in a very cursory way. It’s not unpleasant to have neighbors who we pass and make chit-chat with. It’s even nice to know a little and wonder about the rest. To fill in the blanks with your imagination. Which is what I’ve been doing with Jon and Nancy.

Up until this week, I knew Jon and Nancy very little. Here are my impressions of them. I’m a newcomer to the neighborhood (only been here 9 years), and I live a street away, so I didn’t know as much as other people.

Theirs is a gray two and a half story Victorian like most of the houses in the area. Almost identical to the house next door, with a covered porch, sitting up on a hill with shades usually drawn. An imposing house. It always seemed dark and sad to me. Very private and sad.

I knew Jon looked like an angry Mark Twain. A mop of gray hair and a mustache on top of a lanky frame that was folded into a chair on the front porch more often than not. He didn’t attend neighborhood functions, but he waved when I walked by. He had a reputation for hollering at his wife, who seemed to wait on him hand and foot. He always seemed to be angry at her. To cut him some slack, he was in a wheel chair, so he couldn’t wait on himself.

Nancy was a tiny woman with a dark pixie haircut, large glasses and an overbite. But her most distinguishing feature was her voice. My understanding was that it was damaged by a botched anesthetic during surgery. She could only speak in the hoarsest whisper. She had a very purposeful stride when I would see her headed up the street towards Grand Avenue (the main drag around here) with her pants pulled up to just below her bosom.

When she came to neighborhood functions, she seemed so excited and friendly. I wasn’t the only one to feel protective of her. She was so tiny. Because of her vocal cord injury, we had to lean in to hear her when she talked. Leaning in like that, it starts to affect a person unconsciously. I think made us feel like we knew her better than we did. It was like she was whispering to us all the time, telling secrets. But not.

In the last two summers, though, I started to notice that she was not heading to Grand Avenue alone anymore. She was going with Jon. Pushing his wheelchair. And when I say pushing his wheelchair, I mean she was Leaning Into the back of that chair as if it weighed more than she did. It almost certainly did. Even seated in the chair, he was taller than she was. She leaned into that thing, arms fully extended, bent at the middle, pushing it the 3 or 4 blocks to Grand, on almost a daily basis. It was uncomfortable to watch. Bordering on comical, if it weren’t so terribly sad.

I struggled with watching her every day. I wanted to offer to help, but Jon’s reputation for a bad temper made me afraid to stir things up. I wish I’d have offered. I wish I’d have risked his wrath (which I’d only heard tell of, never seen). But I never did. What stops us from doing these things?

Their house is on a hill. With probably a dozen or more stairs to get to the porch. The back yard led to a sloped alley which would have been the easier way for them to exit, but they always went down the front stairs. Why did they do it that way? We all wondered about it. Jon sometimes scooted on his butt down the stairs. Nancy struggled to heave him into the wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs. There was a motorized chair in the garage, but she pushed the old fashioned one instead.

These things made me think there was something going on I didn’t understand and probably shouldn’t meddle with. I still don’t understand, but I wish I’d have meddled. My image of her as an old fashioned wife who lived in fear of her husband even after he couldn’t get out of his chair stopped me from going any further than wincing when I saw them. It was painful to watch, so I didn’t.

Nancy died this winter. Jon has been sent to a nursing home. His house and life are slipping away from him against his wishes. The grass is up to my knees and there is a For Sale sign in the yard. Neighborhood gossip (which I am a firm believer in, we can talk about that another time) says he doesn’t want to sell, he wants to come home. Why can’t he die in his house if that’s what he wants? This is his question, and I can’t think of a good answer.

And now that the Estate Sale sign has come and gone, I am even more sad about it all. I went to the sale. I went into that house 4 times in two days. I want to go back. But what business do I have there? None, but being there made me hungry to know more.

They weren’t always sad and angry people. Maybe they hardly ever were. Their house wasn’t the kind of house that fit with a heavy-handed control freak and his cowering wife. They weren’t bitter deprived people who had no better options or examples to follow. Or if they were, that wasn’t all they were. They were three-dimensional people with lives and loves and dreams.


4 thoughts on “Nancy and Jon Part 1

  1. Anonymous says:

    I can see them.

    In answer to your question… yes, absolutely. Keep writing.


  2. emily says:

    i agree; especially in a blog where it’s helpful for maintaining page view frequency. 🙂 ‘course, i haven’t been writing much so who am i to talk?

    do we know what nancy died of?

  3. lisa says:

    I don’t understand blogs, Emily. what is page frequency? and why do I want to maintain it?

    I am issfully blignorant about how this goes. I can’t decide if I should read more blogs or just stay dumb. Andy reads Everyone’s blogs and he tells me the news he thinks I need to know.

    As for Nancy, I can’t remember how she died, only that it seemed to go quickly from when we heard she was sick to that she had died. I’d bet that Bill or Jim will know.

  4. Jim says:

    Lisa, your description of Nancy and Jon in Parts 1 and 2 are amazing and you described so well some of the same feelings I had in visiting the house for the estate sale. It felt creepy and invasive to me going through their lifetime of possessions. To be sure it’s just stuff, but it was their stuff and they always seemed to be very private people, but all of that was laid bare as I tramped through the house with everyone else. I was feeling like a voyer.
    I purchased both Nancy and Jon’s high school yearbooks (they both graduated from high school in 1957) — it felt sad that there was no one who would have wanted to keep those treasures. Nancy was from Hinsdale, Illinois and was a pretty, pert and active participant in her high school serving on the yearbook staff, school newspaper staff, acting in “A Chirstmas Carol” and an assortment of other clubs and groups that define high school life. Her book was covered with notes from hundreds of classmates-those corny notes we hope our parents don’t read The notes attested to her popularity in the school. Jon was from somewhere in New York state. His book had no notations and the only organization I could find that he belonged to was the Math Club. Their high school yearbooks seemed reflective of their personalities, at least as I knew them.
    Nancy died in August 2005, I remember that vividly because last summer I mowed the Marx’s lawn (John Bredesen had done it before, but John had moved on to a new home in Highland Park). It was an early evening in August and I put Spencer on his leash and was off to Caribou Coffee (my all too frequent haunt on summer evenings). I stopped at Jon and Nancy’s house to pull some weeds that were crowding out the petunias Nancy had planted early in the summer. I hadn’t noticed Jon sitting on the front porch as I was so intent on getting rid of the weeds. When I got to the top of the steps I saw Jon and asked him how it was and tried to tell him what the hell I was doing invading his lawn. I asked how Nancy was doing because I heard she had been in the hospital, he told me Nancy died that afternoon. He was sitting there all alone, looking so forelorn and I didn’t know what to say accept how sorry I was. I asked him if there were family or friends to be notified and he indicated there were none. Nancy had a sister but apparently they hadn’t been in communication for years and Jon wanted to keep it that way. As I left the porch I felt sad because I really liked Nancy, she was a wonderful neighborhood character. She always whispered her greetings. It was hard for me to carry on a conversation with Nancy because my hearing is less than ideal and the whispers were hard for me to hear but Nancy always smiled and always whispered some kind words. I remember how she always got so excited about the neighborhood block party and wanted to be involved and always volunteered a grill, tables and chairs for the event. I also liked her utter and total disregard for GW Bush — somehow I could always hear her rants against Bush!
    I also felt sad because I didn’t know how to comfort Jon and wasn’t even sure he wanted comforting so I left him sitting there in his wheel chair on the front porch. The longest conversation I had ever had with Jon was one day earlier in the summer as I was mowing the lawn he was brought home by one of his care givers and muttered some comments about how good it was to hear the sound of the mower wacking away at the grass.
    Lisa, I too took home some of the nearly dead plants from the greenhouse window that had been so neglected for so long. I guess I was struck with how they survived and maybe it was a methphor for me that regardless of how bad things get, we can survive. The plants are already starting to perk up and it feels good to have something living and vital that came from Jon and Nancy’s home.
    Thanks so much for your reflections, they helped me bring prespective to the feelings I was having last Sunday when I entered Jon and Nancy’s home for the first time.–>

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