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HumankindNESS-Neighborly

By Jennifer Richardson
I met Mary Kay when I was eight years old, after my family moved next door to hers. She and her husband had seven children and my parents had six. The seventeen of us, plus countless visitors, shared a driveway for multiple decades.

The first thing I understood about Mary Kay was that she spoke directly to children, like they mattered. When she talked to me or my siblings she smiled and made eye contact.

She was not afraid to step in and offer a correction when needed, especially if we were behaving in an unkind manner, but even as we all went through our awkward years– absurdities, blunders, and childish behaviors never changed her acceptance of us. It was as if she knew that all of us would come out the other side of childhood just fine.

We ran all over her yard. We shot endless baskets in front of the basketball goal affixed to the front of her garage. We occasionally got in the way or left items in the driveway. We played outside seemingly endlessly. If these things gave her stress, it never showed. 

She was a great example of “doing.” Mary Kay was and is a do-er. She cooked, baked, took care of a family, attended church, kept up with her children and made time to stop by our home as well. She engaged with life and all its responsibilities with a contentment that seemed natural and intrinsic.

Alongside my own parents, Mary Kay and her husband lived a beautiful example of lifetime commitment. She and Rudy were peaceful, loyal, and steadfast in their friendship with each other, and their solidity helped make our childhood secure. Even as I write these words, it seems a remarkable thing to say about neighbors, but they remain today one of my great examples of unwavering partnership.

Mary Kay valued life. Every time a new baby was anticipated, she was excited. Over the years she never failed to show genuine enthusiasm when she learned I was expecting or had given birth again. She pronounced all my babies adorable, and celebrated any milestone I shared with her.

She always kept track of my life. It has been forty-three years since I met her, and she is still interested in my life and my family. I don’t see her as much anymore, but I always love catching up with her when I visit home.

There is also something comforting in the way she seems ageless. As the rest of us have matured and spread, she has remained fit and timeless. I am not sure what her secret is, but we all wish she would share it.

And I was very touched to receive a card from her recently. I had mentioned my fifty-first birthday in a recent HumankindNESS column and she sent a card to mark the occasion. I was thrilled to find out she reads my column, and enjoys it—and honored that she would take the time to be so thoughtful to a girl who moved away from our shared driveway thirty-three years ago.

My memories of Mary Kay through the years all carry the same hallmarks: calm, steady, caring, and attentive to others. I have understood the sum of her goodness more as I have matured. She displays the kind of ordinary kindness that appears commonplace in a day, but absolutely incredible over a lifetime.

I am not sure if they make neighbors like Mary Kay anymore. If they do, I hope every kid could have one.

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