I worked in an office downtown for a little over thirty years. During that time my cousin owned the business next door. Wendell was two months older than me. He considered it his right and duty to keep an eye on me and make sure I trod the straight and narrow path at all times for the sake of our family's good name.
I knew his motivation was not that pure, suspecting he just got a kick out of watching out the window when I was on the move. That way he could catch me in anything he chose to see as a sin against society. If I didn't park perfectly between the yellow lines designating a space, he was quick to come out the door and point it out. When I locked myself out of the car, and it seemed to happen too often, he was right there in a sarcastic show of compassion. I was not sure I needed a relative so nearby, constantly ready to heckle me.
One day on the way to the post office I was distracted by a sign in the middle of the main street intersection. My attention returned to my own business just as my foot caught the curb and I fell up onto the sidewalk ahead of me. The envelopes I carried scattered and were caught by the wind. I had skinned my knee and torn my nylon stocking. I gave a quick look around to be sure no one had seen me and scrambled back to my feet with every intention of acting like nothing had happened.
Then I heard it. A male voice was calling from across the street. "What are you doing? Kissing the turf?" It was my cousin. He had been at his window.
I said the first thing that came to mind, "I slipped on the ice but I am okay."
"It is June, for goodness sake. Where are you finding ice?" he shot back.
"I slipped in February but I react slowly," I told him as I retrieved the scattered mail and continued on my trip to the post office. He never forgot that.
Eventually there came a day when I appreciated having a relative right next door. It was shortly after the beginning of the work day. Neither of the attorneys was at the office. I was in my own room at the rear of the building and the secretary/receptionist was up front. Someone rattled on the handle of the locked back door. By the time I got up and looked out the window, I saw a man walking away. I thought it looked like the nephew of one of our bosses, so I opened the door and asked if he needed something.
The man turned around and walked right past me into the building saying he needed to use the rest room. He was an unkempt looking stranger. A scary-looking guy but I didn't realize what I had done nor did I panic until after I had sent him to the basement. Then I ran to the front office to tell my co-worker that we had a ratty looking stranger in the basement. Kay wanted us to get out of the building fast.
My reaction was, "We can't go and leave him in here alone. I know. I'll go next door and have Wendell come over so that there is a guy here."
She would have none of that. "Phone him. If you go out that door, I'll be right behind you. I'm not staying here alone."
I used the phone and within seconds Wendell's muscle-bound twenty-year-old son strode into the office to save us from my stupidity. Scott went to the basement and acted like he was reading at a conference table down there until the guy came out of the rest room some fifteen minutes later. Then Scott followed him up the steps and showed him out the back door. What a relief it was for us to once again be in our secure office space with no stranger lingering about.
Having a relative next door wasn't so bad after all. Wendell has now gone on to his eternal reward. I miss him and the familiar banter that ensued between us when, in the midst of a summer heat wave, he greeted me with, "Hey, Mary Frances. Run into any icy patches today?