Our block is more of a rounded triangle than it is a rectangle. A triangle with a point at the bottom. Across the top is Woodland. We live on the Warrington side of the triangle – you can picture it running diagonally from the point on the bottom to the top right. There is actually a curve to it. Huntington runs along the left side of the triangle.
There are two twin houses down at the point where Warrington and Huntington come together called the two sisters. They mirror each other and look out onto the big grass strip the separates the two directions of Coventry Road. I don’t know if they are really called the two sisters or Kim just calls them that. She thought the Van Sweringen sisters used to live there but a quick online search suggests that they lived together in a mansion on South Park.
In any case, Jan and George owned the one that is mostly on Warrington. Jan was one of those people who anchored the neighborhood. We are lucky in our neighborhood to have more than one such person – but Jan was special.
Maggie and Elena loved walking by their yard on the way too and from school. They loved looking at the house. They looked forward to seeing Jan in the front yard. Kim remembers that her house was on the garden tour and she loved to plant flowers. She would come over and talk to the girls like they were real people worth talking to. Kids just know when an adult is really listening and not just humoring them. Elena and Maggie loved talking to Jan.
When Jan lost much of her hair to chemotherapy. She didn’t hide it under a wig. She wore a baseball cap and continued to work in the yard. Some days she would be out there without her cap.
It tells you what kind of a person she was. My girls never asked why. Jan was someone you saw, but she was more someone you felt. You felt her warmth. You felt her calm. You felt her presence.
At the summer block party in 2005 we sat and talked to her for a long time. We talked to George too, but Jan was the one we seemed to know much better. In mid October George and Jan hosted the neighborhood clam bake. We hung out in their backyard – adults only – and ate hors d’oeuvres and chatted while the bakes cooked. Everyone took their food down to the basement to eat. It was one of those nights where everyone is relaxed and comfortable.
Jan tired early. The neighbors helped George clean up the basement and put the chairs and tables back where they belonged. We said our goodnights.
I’m ashamed to say that it was the last night I would see Jan alive.
Two months later we went from house to house for the neighborhood’s progressive dinner. Jan wasn’t doing well. George joined us briefly for one of the courses but you could see the worry on his face. Fran asked neighbors to volunteer to cook meals for Jan and George. Kim signed up but Jan didn’t live long enough for us to actually cook for them.
Jan died in January. Someone, Fran or Carolyn, called us and told us about the funeral and the visiting hours. When the girls got home from school we told them that Jan had died. We told them that we were going to go down the street to visit the family. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to. I’m so awkward around death. Wouldn’t we just be in the way?
The four of us walked down the street the same way we walked to school each day. We went up the front walk. Half of our neighbors were in the house already and the rest would follow. His family was there to support him and her family was there to say goodbye. We talked a bit to George and a cousin of Jan’s and shared our memories of her.
We looked around for Elena. She wasn’t in the dining room with us. I thought I heard her voice coming from the kitchen. I headed that way to see her talking to a woman I think is George’s sister.
“I just love this house,” Elena was telling them. “I’ve always wanted to see the inside.”
It was a six year old full of Jan’s spirit.
When it was time to leave, Elena still wasn’t ready. There were more people to talk to and more rooms to explore.
I held out her coat for her to take. Instead she put it on while I held it as if I was placing an expensive fur coat around her. She started to make the rounds one more time as we left the house but I cut it short.
It was tough to leave this house where Jan lived. To say goodbye.