Remembering Our Neighbor

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Annette Feil with Harper, 2005

I’m working on some more ALA Midwinter posts to share some of the upcoming books I heard about from publishers but I wanted to let you in on why I had to shorten my conference and couldn’t make it on the big awards day.

When my daughter was about 18 months old we moved from Athens, GA to Lilburn where we had gotten teaching jobs. We moved into a little brick ranch house within walking distance to a cool park and a lovely little public library. I saw this older lady in her 80s outside working on flowers in her garden next door and introduced myself, telling her about my daughter and my wife, Annette.

“Well my name is Annette too,” she said, “so I know we’ll have to be friends.”

And just like that, we were. She was completely delighted with little Harper and we all became adopted family members. Harper saw her more often than her own grandparents and Annette saw us more than her own children (though they are all amazing and visited her quite often. As well as her grandchildren and great grandchildren!)

One day we lost track of little Harper and freaked out. She wasn’t in the house! She wasn’t in the back yard! We ran out into the street and were about to call the police when she came out of Annette’s with a handful of candy. She kept visiting Annette on her own like that for years. (Though she told us where she was going after that!)

She taught Harper to help her plant roses and pick her tomatoes. When Harper began piano lessons she would play for Annette and it brought back Annette’s love for that as well. We gave her the gift of having her piano tuned and got her a piano lamp and Harper would share her sheet music. They played together and for each other quite a bit.

We always knew we’d want a bigger house but put it off for years because of the mortgage crises and then because of Annette. When we finally decided to go ahead and look around it was knowing that it couldn’t be far from her. The one we ended up with was less than ten minutes away.

She wasn’t happy we moved but we ended up seeing her more often. I’d go every Monday after school, take out her trash and recycling and check her mail. Then, more often than not, I’d be invited to sit and chat for a while.

My wife went every Saturday morning to have tea and coffee and sometimes breakfast. Sometimes she’d do a little shopping for her as well. I became her tech guy whenever a TV or phone was giving her trouble.

Finally, last year, she decided she was getting too old to care for herself. No serious physical problems, just too tired to cook and clean anymore. So even though she’d been living alone in that same house for more than 40 years, she had her son find a retirement home for her. It was about only ten minutes away from us going in the other direction, so we continued our weekly visits, helping out whenever we could. My wife did this every single Saturday morning. I went here and there. We all saw her again over the holidays which was a treat I’m eternally grateful for.

She was funny and sweet and interested in everyone. She was in that home less than a year but has three incredibly close friends there.

My favorite recent story about her was when my wife read out the weekly menu to her because her eyes were starting to fail. She noticed the lunches seemed to be the big meal of the day with dinner being lighter fare, which she was a little grumpy about. “Maybe they think if you eat too much for dinner you won’t sleep as well,” my wife told her.

Immediately she shot back with, “I’d rather not sleep!”

She loved food and was an excellent cook. She was the one they went to for every big church event. She was so thoughtful and often had amazing leftovers or desserts for us.

She even called MY parents on the phone, as recently as last week, to check on them.

Thursday was a wonderful day for her. She spent it with her daughter-in-law Norma,shopping and eating out and getting her hair done. She had a bit of a fall when she came back so they called the paramedics. You can’t be too careful with those 94-year-olds no matter how good of a shape they’re in. One of the paramedics flirted with her and she actually danced with him a bit!

Later, she visited with one of her good new friends, showing her the purchases of the day. Her friend said she was going to go change, then she’d come back to pick up Annette and they could go down to dinner together. When she came back for her, our dear Annette had had a stroke and was unresponsive. Those same paramedics came back and took her to the hospital but it was too late. She passed.

So Monday our family joined with hers and many friends to celebrate her life, grieve and have her funeral. The family asked me to be a pallbearer.

We were so lucky to know this loving lady.

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Annette Feil, 1923-2017
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One thought on “Remembering Our Neighbor

  1. Doug Johnson

    Wonderful post, Jim. We too often forget those who really matter in our lives are not the politicians or gurus, but those who live next door. Thank you for the reminder.

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