My next-door neighbor died a couple of weeks ago. She was a good and thoughtful neighbor, an attorney in her mid-40s, and, as far as I know, her death was totally unexpected. The first two people who informed me said she “passed” and, frankly, as a teacher, that word sounds too much like a grading assessment. Jennifer did “pass,” I guess; unfortunately, she also died.
Jennifer knew my interest in Mobile, New Orleans, and Mardi Gras. In fact, I created a travel guide for her very first trip to New Orleans and loaned her some books about the city to get her prepared and in the mood. New Orleans was a perfect match for her; she loved things bright and cheerful and frou frou and her cozy back yard had decorations and light displays for every season.
I used to throw a Joe Cain Day party on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. The Joe Cain Day parade is a uniquely Mobile celebration open to all participants – the “people’s parade.” A few years ago, a few days before Joe Cain Day, I drove in from work to find a big fluffy festive Mardi Gras wreath hanging on my back gate. I knew immediately where it came from.
I moved the wreath to the front door, where it remained until midnight on Fat Tuesday.
The next year, a couple of weeks before Fat Tuesday, I hung the wreath back on the door. The next day it was gone. Left in its place was a note from Jennifer letting me know that she had some ideas for improvement and was taking the wreath for an update. It was back on the door a couple of days later – replete with even more beads and embedded masks.
This year, I hung the wreath on a Tuesday night two weeks before Mardi Gras. Jennifer died the next day. The wreath will now have a deeper meaning when I hang it in years to come.
I gauge impending spring by the trees that bloom in the front yards of the row of prim townhouses where I live. A decade ago, I planted ninety crocus bulbs in my front yard with the plan that they would be the first blossoms to herald the spring season. Next would be Jennifer’s front-yard crabapple tree, followed by the huge spreading white cherry blossoms in her back yard, that hang gracefully over my back fence. Finally, my pink cherry blossoms would burst forth in my front yard. By that time, the dogwoods and redbuds and glories of spring would be ready to go.
The crocuses scattered in my front yard seem to have petered out over the past couple of years so the big harbinger of spring in front of the house has been Jennifer’s crabapple tree. It’s a tall, gangly thing. Several people who have worked on my yard have offered to chop it down for free. Indeed, it had a lot of dead branches on it but Jennifer wouldn’t hear of losing it. One Saturday several years ago, her dad and I managed to trim a lot of the dead off and the tree has shaped up fairly nicely since.
It’s still not a beauty, except for those couple of weeks in the late winter when its deep purplish blossoms burst forth.
Last year, Jennifer, who did most of her coming and going through the back of her house, commented to me that she had completely missed the crabapple blooming because she had been so tied up with business, personal, and other things and had not even looked in the front yard.
I assured her that the show of blooms had been particularly beautiful and promised to alert her when the tree started to bloom this year.
Jennifer’s funeral last week took place on a dreary rainy Tuesday. The next day, as I opened my bedroom curtains just after sunrise, was bright and sunny. I glanced over at Jennifer’s crabapple and saw the first blossoms high in the top of the sun-dappled tree.