Jean (pronounced John...like John) caught me goofing off with my puppy in our front yard. The intensity in which she was watching you’d think she paid for the front row seat hidden behind the trees limbs and weathered fence. Leaning on her cane, she watched us play and run around the avocado tree oblivious to the real world around us.
Once we became aware of this audience of one, my puppy and I pounced on the chance to meet this woman who was smiling brightly and proudly as if she were watching her own son, or at least her own dog in the spotlight.
There was open hospitality about her that I like. A willingness to to be engaged with the world around her. It reminded me of exactly what I am trying to achieve with this challenge but had somehow forgotten while I was pretending to be a dog.
Yet there was also something about her that I just couldn’t put my finger on. So I asked a bunch of questions. And Jean was more than happy to answer them.
”I have to use this cane because of my scoliosis,” she answered. “I wore a brace as a child, but at 16 they told me it wouldn’t do me any more good,” she added without a prompt. It turns out that her painful affliction would return 50 years later when she was in her 60’s. Because Jean was so open and hospitable I was also able to learn that she recently “grew this hump on my back.” She turned around so I could see it better, but I couldn’t see anything. I told her as long as she wore sweaters with hoods on them no one would be the wiser. She squinted her eyes on mine and smiled with delight. She has the kind of smile that says there is still plenty of good in the world.
While I was not aware of any of her physical ailments, I did detect an accent when she spoke. One that was uncommon for Los Angeles, but not too unusual for me. When she told me her given name, Jean Marie Louise,* I guessed she was either French, French Canadian, or Creole. Turns out she is one of them, by proximity and by blood.
Born and raised just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, Jean had two older brothers. One still owns the family house. “A hundred plus year old duplex that was unaffected by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.” I told Jean, that I began and ended my first marriage (ironically to a woman named Jean...pronounced Jean like jeans) in New Orleans. But this Jean was not interested in that. Instead she was more interested in my house.
Jean told me that she loves to walk past our house because it always reminded her of home. Not so much the Craftsman style, or its history or age, but because of “the assortment of azaleas that always seem to be in bloom.” Only a true southerner would spot that. She planted some herself when she moved out to Southern California. Maybe that’s a thing people from the south do when they move, plant azaleas as a way to remember where we came from.
Like me, Jean does her own gardening. Unlike me, she pretty much fixes all her own stuff. And then she preceded to shared with me in great detail all that she has been fixing as if we had known each other forever. With an audience all to herself, Jean also let me know how she had recently hurt her arm (which was broken at birth due to being breached). If you’re curious I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me telling you that she hurt while fixing her own door. “It’s hard to get screws into that old wood.” (And here I was thinking it’s hard to take a door off it’s hinges, put on the saw horse, and drill screws into old wood.)
As my dog abandoned this episode of #KNOWvember to eat sticks off the avocado tree, I tuned in and watched the Jean show. A well-written “dramady” fit for the Hallmark Channel. In the background a neighbor’s music gave us a soundtrack. Though there was an absence of a laugh track, there was plenty of laughter. Better still, there were no commercial breaks or interruptions for a news alert. And no applause signs telling me when to clap. It was just me and Jean. Typical of any good show you watch, just as I was getting into our conversation, it ended. I wanted to know more. Maybe next week.
Until then, I returned to my regularly schedule program called life, with a puppy.
*I do not ask for last names nor do I write them down when someone tells me to help protect their privacy.