Friday, April 19, 2013
Madeline Lewis should have had children. She would have been a good mother, caring, interesting, fun. She could have been a teacher. Instead, she lived with her husband, Morgan, and their two cats, Boots and Mike in the third row house on my block.
It might have been a dull sort of life -- getting up to see to her husband's breakfast, filling his lunch pail, then seeing him off to the mines. Then housework....making the one bed, running the carpet sweeper, washing the dishes.
But Madeline had the neighborhood children to entertain her.
To us the Lewis’s were Ludie and Morgy. Morgy was a kindly, but quiet, man; but we didn't see him often. Ludie was always there and, especially in the summer, we ended up on her back stoop, playing school, putting on skits, making up stories or poems.
She encouraged our imaginations and supervised our play. Three or four of us, sometimes just two, would amble over to her house, full of silliness or, often, just plain bored and call: "Hi, Ludie." She would stop what she was doing and come out to organize some activity.
She was, when I remember her best, in her 40's with white, bobbed hair, blue eyes and a ready smile. She always wore white anklets and oxfords with her house dresses.
She would sit with us and give us the theme for the day: "Let's make up poems." I was somehow good at doggerel. I recall one deathless effort that starts: "I see the moon\The moon sees me." I don't remember the ending, but Ludie praised it with such enthusiasm and I felt as though I was special, indeed.
Ludie's cats were good with children, too. Big angora males, they tolerated us with catly condescension. After all, they could escape indoors or await the arrival of the local meat vendor who came from the next town once a week in his truck with homemade sausages and fresh lunch meats (bologna, Lebanon bologna and summer sausage.
Boots and Mike knew before we did when the truck was coming and sat on the curb waiting. They always got a treat thrown to them. It was their due, after all.
Ludie's other love was the radio soap operas and we knew it was time to play elsewhere when "Dr. Brent, call surgery" or Road of Life came on.
After I had moved many times, I reconnected with Ludie. I had somehow remained friends with the Polish girl my age and we exchanged Christmas cards over the years. (No longer girls, we continue to this day.) I had asked about Ludie and other neighborhood people and found she was still there, but failing somewhat.
I wrote her and was pleased that she remembered me. She was doing fairly well, although Morgy had died a few years before and she was lonely. Then I received a sad card one year that told me she had run into my mother at the grocery store. Since my mother had died years before, I knew that was impossible. Ludie's memory failure saddened me.
The following Christmas my neighborhood correspondent told me Ludie had moved in with her sister across town and had subsequently died.