If you remember or know the hit song by Ricky Nelson in the early 60s “Hello Mary Lou” you appreciate the turn of title for this post. Nelson’s hit was about falling in crush over a girl of that name — “Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye heart/Sweet Mary Lou I’m so in love with you./I knew, Mary Lou, we’d never part/ So hello Mary Lou and goodbye heart.” I could share the rest from memory but the focus of this post is on another Mary Lou: my neighbor to the west, an old woman who died this morning.
When I purchased my present home about 1992, I was renting upper and lower halves of the duplex to strangers and living. Even so, I still drove over with the lawnmower, handle folded forward in the back of my Chevrolet Caprice, to . . . . what do you suppose I did with it? I painted murals? . . . . to mow the lawns. In the course of that routine, I met Mary Lou and her husband. He had been Sergeant at Arms for the Illinois State Senate. I had two conversations with him in the course of two months or so before he died. I also learned that their only son Kevin had attended Springfield High School with me. I had grown up on Whittier Avenue about five blocks almost directly south of their home, never knowing Kevin or his parents, never visiting him, never seeing the house next door at 428 I would purchase about 30 years hence. I read about the gentleman’s death and wished Mary Lou the best when I next mowed the lawns.
During this time, the elderly gentleman who had been living in the house next door to the east of 428 also died. We had spoken to each other once across the backyard fence, and he seemed a fine fellow, obviously very frail from the toll of years. I don’t remember his name, but I knew he had died because one afternoon as I was mowing, I noticed noticed about seven strangers, all middle-aged adults, leaving his house. I shut down the mower, introduced myself and chatted briefly with them. They said the house would be put up for sale. It sold about a week later, and the new owner Judy moved in. My life has been blessed by Judy and Mary Lou ever since.
Mary Lou and I shopped at National Supermarket at the corner of Jefferson at Walnut, and after it closed, we shopped at Jewel at Capitol City Shopping Center. Every time we encountered each other in the aisles, she would bring me up-to-date on how the residents were doing at 428: The upstairs couple were were storing a ski boat in the back yard, there was a lot of garbage accumulating on the porch, the music was awfully loud last weekend, but she was afraid to call the police . . . . all pretty routine.
Almost two years after Dad died, I moved into the lower part of my Vine Street duplex. I liked the older home, the feel of it, the architecture, the interior, more than the west side home which seemed as home-like as a suite at the Arlington Heights Hyatt Regency. Chats with Mary Lou became more frequent. We’d wave and say “hello” whenever we saw each other in the back yard. We had many convivial chats about family, the neighborhood, the usual routine, but in the course of things, she complained more about me to the municipal authorities than she had complained to me about the folks living there before I moved in. My backyard grass was too tall, there was an inside couch on my front porch (it’s against City Code because inside furniture often provides shelter to wild animals), the upstairs tenants were stacking bags of garbage on their outside front porch, my outside-dwelling dogs had fleas and some of them were setting up housekeeping in her back yard. Fleas with Thelonius Dog and Slick Richard were seasonal during the four years they “owned” my back yard. Despite my “home remedy” attempts which included flea collars and medication for the pets, only the intervention of winter cured the flea problem the final year they resided here. Despite the unfortunate predictability of her conversations, we were always civil when we talked. Kevin and his family were devoted to her; visited at least once a week, good folks every one. When a storm brought some tree branches down on her garage just a few feet from my own back porch, the remains were cleared and a new one built inside two weeks.
This spring I began seeing less of her. She stopped driving, and her car was sold. She still did volunteer work, but friends picked her up and returned her home. She was outgoing and active until about April, and then I didn’t see her again. She had nursing care 24 hours a day. I could set my watch by the arrival and departure of the two different cars that came daily. One parked by the street curb during most of the day so the night shift car could park in the driveway.
The garbage, fleas, tall grass and outside furniture are “history” today, and so is Mary Lou.
When I arrived home from work Thursday, my friend Judy, hair in rollers, came out on her front porch to meet me with the unhappy news Mary Lou had died. She knew because the hearse had come about 10:30 in the morning, and it was all very obvious she had passed. I’m sure a funeral services are planned, and I’m sure I will attend to pay my respects, the third funeral I will have attended in my life.
You will likely learn more about Mary Lou in the State Journal-Register obituaries this morning, and I’m sure I will too. For one thing, I will learn her last name.
Live long . . . . . . and proper.