Other than our current wonderful neighbors, perhaps the most friendly were two families that lived on either side of us in the county outside of Fresno. We’d purchased a home on one acre after the nine-month fiasco next door to the three young doctors, their girlfriends and that swimming pool.
On one side was a young Mexican couple that had two young children, a girl and a boy. The second day we were there — a Sunday — they sent over their children with a hot plate of home made tamales. They were delicious. Between our home and the other neighbors, was an acre of experimental fruit trees that John G. owned. A large portion of the acre behind that entire block was a fruit ranch.
The ranch foreman was named Owen. He, and his wife Mildred, lived on the other side of that experimental acre. It didn’t take a week for my husband Van and I to become acquainted with those two nice older people. They had a little dog and so did we. The dogs became friends fast and in no time the four of us did also, frequently having meals together.
Owen spent most of his working hours in the back portion of the ranch. Only once in about two or three months did he check the trees in that acre between our homes. Then one day — just after lunch — he was checking when he saw a car parked out in the street in front of our home. At the door was a man he didn’t know.
When Owen asked the stranger what he was doing, the man said, “He was looking for Barbara.” Owen answered by saying that “he knew the man was lying and to get the you know what” away from our door. The man got into his car, flying into the distance. What’s so unusual is that not an hour later I came home. I had a bad cold and finally decided enough was enough and left work.
Owen came over to tell me what had happened. We found the man had jimmied the front door open. Not only was the lock ruined, so was the door. Our procedure was that when my husband Van and I got home, we always came in through the garage. Had that man gotten inside, I would have walked in on him completely unaware that we were being robbed. It’s frightening to think what could have happened.
Owen’s wife Mildred was one of the sweetest and most unassuming people I’ve known. She always talked about her inability to cook properly, and often asked my advice. It was just after our dinner one day that Van and I went over to their home to give Owen a tool he’d asked to borrow. Owen was watching TV and Mildred was getting their dinner. The men were talking and I was watching his wife cook.
On her stove, Mildred was melting a glob of Crisco in a huge pot. I asked if she was going to make French fries? She, to my amazement instead said, “The fat was for frying a steak.” It took me a minute to realize that she was going to take that beautiful t-bone and fry it in a huge pot of grease. I inadvertently exclaimed “Oh no”.
After I told her no, she asked me if I’d fry it for her and show her what she was doing wrong. It took a minute to get that greasy mess out of that pot, and a small portion of it into a regular frying pan. While Mildred fixed their baked potatoes and finished cooking some string beans, I cooked that beautiful steak to a medium rare.
Mildred carried their two plates into the living room since Owen always had his dinner watching TV while eating his meal off of the ottoman in front of him. Mildred sat in her chair and used a TV tray for her dinner. It didn’t take more than a couple of bites and Owen — usually a man of few words – looked at his wife and announced that the steak was the best he’d ever eaten.
Owen didn’t know that I’d cooked it. I gave Mildred a high sign and didn’t say a word. She just smiled. They’re both gone now, bless them, but those years beside them and that young Mexican couple were filled with a lot of great memories of what it was like to have wonderful neighbors.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com