The 26th of December has always been a special day in my mind. It was the birthday of a dear friend, and I wanted to write a bit about her today.
I grew up in the old section of Lancaster, and most of the neighbors had been there for decades. There were the Brandts; Louie and Annie were high school sweethearts who met at AV High, and built their house in the 50’s. Their classmates, the Troups, lived next to them. There was Charlie "The Bird Man", famous for his army of cats and the weekly bird feedings at nearby grocery stores. Mr. Pederson was the neighborhood watch. Bonnie and Maxine had over 15 fruit trees and had lived there long enough to watch my house being built next to theirs in ’59. And then there was Anna Alexander. Zander, as she liked to be called, lived a street away. I don’t remember how we met; it seemed like everybody knew everybody. More than likely it was one of Mom’s constant walks around the neighborhood. My earliest memory of her was wondering who this old lady was that my mom liked to talk to, and why did her dog hate me so much? But then the letters started to arrive. Every birthday, on my birthday, mind you, not before or after, there was a card in the mail wishing me a happy birthday from Zander and Spotcy, (Her bloodthirsty companion), with a crisp one dollar bill. And there was a Christmas card on December 23rd, again with a crisp Washington inside. Being a capitalist, born and bred, I decided that Zander was alright, and I should be her friend.
I began to spend time with her, and soon learned about her. She was a shut-in, widowed in ’88, and had one adopted daughter who never came around. But Zander was never a bitter person, so she surrounded herself with a new family. Everybody in the neighborhood would stop by from time to time to check up on her. Even the mail lady would give special instructions to her vacation replacements, ("You knock on the door, hand her the mail, and ask how she is doing. If she needs anything, tell the guy across the street.") She sent out cards to over 30 kids every year, and her afternoons were spent working a call board for school kids who were home alone. After her demon dog Spotcy died, she was given a new dog named Indie, and I began to come over more frequently, (Indie didn’t try to kill me). We would sit and work on our stamp collections, watch Dodger games, or just talk. Oh, the stories that she would tell! She grew up as the only girl in a family of 5. She was a former Quaker, who got detention multiple times for knocking out the local bullies at school, ("Nobody was allowed to pick on my friends.") Baseball was her passion, ("I was the best catcher, nothing could get past my bloomers.") She got her first job during the Great Depression, and the first time her daughter put her in a nursing home, she bribed the orderlies, broke out, and went home. Eventually, her age caught up to her, and she went home at the age of 97.
Yet she is not gone. I have a teapot that she gave me, and one of her cards stashed away complete with the $1 bill. I became a raving Dodger’s fan, and I learned the value of investing in the lives of others. That was her mission in life. Whether it was the childhood friend that needed protecting, random kids in an old neighborhood, or even those old folk as she called them at the nursing home during the last 2 years of her life, she saw others as treasures, and she treated them as such.