#69 Nobody Knows It, Nobody Knows
Writing Prompt: Memorable Neighbors
When our family lived in the house on Darby Road, there were lots of neighbors with lots of kids. My siblings rode bikes and skateboards with kids who had great names like “Dickie Dunkle” and "Sabina Murphy.” At Halloween, the local dentist would rename himself “Doctor Shock” and transform his home into a haunted house. All the kids would gather around to grab candy from a tray he’d rigged to zap little hands with a tiny jolt of electricity. Once, when I was selling Girl Scout cookies, I rang the doorbell of the semi-famous Channel 6 newscaster who lived down the block. He came to the door looking disheveled and wearing a shaggy blue bathrobe, yelled at me for waking him up, and slammed the door.
But the neighbor I remember most was Mr. Maxwell.
Mr. & Mrs. Maxwell lived right across the street from us. I don’t think they had any children or, if they did, they must have been grown by that time. They did, however, have a little black puppy that Mr. Maxwell said I could name. I chose “Elton John” because my favorite song was “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” I’d sing along with it when it came on the car radio and pretend I was Kiki Dee, a fabulous girl who sang duets with rock stars.
I guess Mrs. Maxwell didn’t like Elton John or his songs because they called the dog “Brutus.”* Brutus grew fast and ended up being so big that I could almost ride him like a pony.
Mr. Maxwell, Brutus, me, Kimmie. I guess this is how we wore our hair.
Mr. Maxwell was a very kind, gentle person who never minded when my sister was supposed to be babysitting me, but instead dropped me off in his yard to play with the dog. I wasn’t allowed to cross the street by myself, so on the days was I was supposed to be playing outside by myself, I’d sit outside on the curb in front of our house and wait until Mr. Maxwell came out and saw me. Then I’d holler, “Hey, Mr. Maxwell! Can you cross me across the street?” And, he’d always come cross me across the street.
He had a little garden in his yard where he grew tomatoes, only he pronounced it “tamayyytahs.” He’d show me the progress of his plants, let me dig around in the earth, and, when it was time, send me home with a little bowl of tamayyytahs to give to my mother. He loved puns. A favorite: “I see, said the blind man when he picked up his hammer and saw.”
Mr. Maxwell would say that he spent a lot of time outside with his garden and his dog because Mrs. Maxwell didn’t like it when he smoked in the house. Or, as he’d say, “she doesn’t like the smell of my smoking tabakkkkah."
Our family moved away from that house and I’d all but forgotten about Mr. Maxwell. When I was 25 and tending bar at the Place, I remembered him and asked my dad whatever happened to him. That’s when I found out that Mr. Maxwell had died by suicide while we were still living in our house. Apparently, Mrs. Maxwell had left him and he became distraught.
I know it was common back then to keep children out of the loop on difficult topics like death and suicide. But I think I would have liked to have known that my friend died. I would have had a lot of questions. What’s going to happen to the garden? Who’s going to take care of Brutus? I guess nobody knew the answers anyway.
*I only learned later that Brutus was the guy who stabbed Julius Caesar which casts a whole different light on this story.