Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mrs. Whilshey on Stoppat Street

12244 Stoppat Street, the long curved loop of a neighborhood. Like a rope, or a snake, curled tongue to tail, with houses all along the outside and the inside, across the street from each other. Entering the suburban street, houses on both sides, you drove until it started to curve right, and this was where the apartments were, strangely mixed in with the houses; if you kept driving straight instead of curving right with the road, you'd head down an incredibly steep driveway (where I once busted open my knees and arms over the front of a chubby friend's bike as we stupidly attempted to fly downhill on 40$ of thin metal and plastic handlebars) into an underground parking structure. The parking structure was both jail and playground for all the neighborhood children, a place where bullying and terrorizing could happen as easily as hide and seek and Doctor.

Along the right hand side of the street was an embankement that went uphill of trees we kids used for climbing, swinging, breaking arms, making forts. I once lost my stuffed Tiggy there for two horrible days, before I found him and swore never to take him out in the neighborhood again. ( I didn't, and I still have him.) After the curving loop to the right, on the left hand side there were more apartments, where we began living, my mom, dad, sister and I. This was where Mrs. Whilshey lived, a bitter, miserable old lady who probably looked much older than she was due to her constantly pinched and dissaproving expressions, and penchant for overlarge dark clothing and reading glasses. She lived alone, and I always thought of her as the kind of woman who might have poisoned any unfortunate husband with arsenic in his tea, after he left his trouser belt laying on the bed one too many time, or left the sugar lid off again. Mrs. Whilshey could not stand the clamorous and numerous neighborhood children, and my sister and I went out of our way to stay out of her way. We bothered her in every aspect, our playing in the sprinklers in underwear over the hot summers disgusted her, our laughter and screaming infuriated her,
our toys in the common lawn angered her, our obvious lack ( to her ) of appropriate parenting and discipline confirmed her low opinion of us.

She had to pass our small beige apartment to get to her car, and everytime her black pratical shoes slapped by us on the pavement we could feel the radiation of her dislike lapping over our backs like a nuclear pulse. She sniffed and snotted, curled her mouth and curdled her already curled face even more, to be sure we were fully aware of her feelings. We slunk a few feet away and kept playing. One afternoon, I had left my silver wheeled roller skates on the path, alongside my Green Big Wheel, and she knocked like the Wicked Witch on the door, three sharp raps. RAP RAP RAP, my mom was having coffee with the Indian neighbor who was attending medical school alongside her husband and who left their small son Armound in my mom's care while attending class. I stood behind my mother as Mrs. Wilshey spoke.

' Your children are leaving a MESS everywhere. Did you know they were out in their panties
earlier, in the water, and left water everywhere? ' ( Can you leave water when playing in water?
Were we to suck it dry with our mouths? )

' Mrs. Whilshey I'm sorry they left their toys on the walk. I'll- '

' I know, Maam, what you will do. It is what you won't do that concerns me. '


' So? '

My mom crossed her arms. ' Mrs. Whilshey? Don't ever come to my door again complaining
about my children unless you would like me to file a complaint with managment about your
continual harrassement of the neighborhood children, which I'm sure the other parents would
be happy to sign. '

Mrs. Whilshey colored sour red, turned, and left.

The next day I sat in my room, flushed with summer heat and bored. I thought of Mrs. Whilshey's mean face, her constant harping, her words to my Mom. I took out a notepad and pen, and began to write:

Dear Mrs. Whilshy

You are a men lady. You are men to all of the kids and we dunt like you. Go away frum
all of us and be a quit persun.



I put the note in an envelope and took my 5 year old self over to Mrs. Whilshey's door as stealthily as I could manage. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, I slipped the note under her mat, and ran.

That evening, there was Mrs. Whilshey's distinctive knock on the door. RAP RAP RAP
My mom sighed, put down the wet dish to dry her hands, and opened the door. Mrs. Whilshey stood, sour red again, trembling with strange delight.

' Do you know what your child has been up to, do you? That one- ' she said, pointing at me, behind my mother again. I felt sick.

My mother said nothing, and Mrs. Whilshey pulled out a small envelope from which she pulled out a small, badly written note. ' Your child has been writing hate mail! ' She crowed triumphantly.

Mom looked back at me, face unreadable. ' I apologize. ' What? Why was Mom so sure I did it?
Wasn't she going to argue, defend me? ' I'm sorry, Mrs. Whilshey, and we will talk to Maggie and punish her. Thank you. ' and she shut the door firmly.

She turned to me. I looked up at her. ' I didn't do it, Mom! '

' Maggie, ' she sighed. ' You used your Dad's stationary. It has our name and address printed right on the top. '


Years passed, and I was in 4th grade, living in an entirely different neighborhood and part of town, where a small old woman lived down the street, in her small decrepit house, alone. I walked by her house often, the front overriden with climbing vine and weed, dirt on the pathway, her windows shut. Occasionaly I would see her come out of her house and open the chipped mail box to retrieve her mail, then head back in. I watched her. I thought of her.

One day, I wrote her a letter.

Dear Lady,

I get really lonely sometimes and I am very sad, you don't know me but I am. And it looks like
you might be sad and lonely too and I wanted you to know that you are not the only one. If you
are mean I'm sure it's because you are just too sad. I hope you feel better and open your windows.


I left the letter with some flowers in her mailbox.

image by Gabriol via Flickr
story by Maggie May Ethridge March 29 2009

Sandi said...

That was fantastic!

Petunia Face said...

Lordy, that was good!

Anonymous said...

That was wonderful. I got goose bumps at the end.

Anonymous said...

i love reading you!
you are a writer!

p.s. people of myspace asked me where were you. i said nothing. this internet is a hide-and-seek thing.

they miss you....

much love
your yolanda said...

great words! ! great image! !

Jeanne Estridge said...

Nice character arc -- good piece! Have you ever seen the movie "Wonderboys"? If not, it's a great movie about writing and writers.

Beth said...

Such a spunky, kind-hearted little girl.
I hope “The Lady” opened her windows.

Jennifer said...

Your blog is absolutely beautiful! I love the illustrations and vintage look to your blog. :)

- if you would like to view my blogs please do not hesitate to contact me via e-mail.

x Jennifer.

Annie said...

Hi Maggie, I enjoyed your story, and of course, I wonder if it is autobiography, or a mixture of fact and fiction. Before you even said it, I was thinking of the witch from Wizard of Oz.

If the story were fiction, here's where I thought the twist in the tale would be: ' Do you know what your child has been up to, do you? That one- ' she said, pointing at me..." I thought Mrs. Whilshey would say something like: "She's been writing, and at only five years old...and the twist would involve her telling the mom to keep that child occupied with books, in her huffy way, or something to indicate she thinks the child is a genius, maybe bringing a book in her hands, something written more for adults, along with a book of spelling and grammar (maybe Mrs. Whilshey is a retired schoolteacher). (And days later, Mrs. Whilshey dies of a heart attack- who knows- something dramatic..., or, she continues to be an influence in the child's life, someone to gain from, and someone to react against- anything is possible in fiction.)

I also like your opening, which could be adapted as an opening to a collection of short stories, or a much longer story about a complex childhood.(It's interesting that you open the story in third person, interject first person, and then continue in first person; and that you give the reader an overview of a place, and then you tighten the focus.)

And, if this story is fact, I wonder, what happened with the lady you wrote to in the fourth grade?

Thanks for sharing this story!

Cid said...

Makes me think of all the "mean" little old ladies with whom I have crossed paths in a very different light.

PalagiGirl said...

You have just opened the floodgates to so many of my own memories with that post. You're amazing.

Maggie May said...

Hi everyone! Good morning. I've got my coffee in hand and 20 minutes before I have to leave for work.

Annie- it is memoir. I changed the names and a few details and walah!

So mainly, true story.

Maggie May said...

Oh ANnie= also, I thought the same thing about the opening. I might write a collection of stories about that place.

Anonymous said...

You make it seem so simple. Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

What a great site and what a great story. Thanks for popping by on my space and I've added you to the blog roll. Really impressive.

CSD Faux Finishing said...

Classic, using the family letterhead but signing it "Sumone"! Love this whole story :o) I hope your new neighbor did open her windows!

Sunday's Pearl said...

Oh Maggie!!! I am absolutely in love with this story. I wonder if I'll ever get used to your dazzling words...

Andrea said...

Wonderful story...beautiful words! :)

aurbie said...

What an interesting story. I love your writing style. You should start taking some photos. Where's there talent in one area, there is talent in another.

I love the photo you put with the your story.

"You are a gud writer and a gud persun. You are gud to all of the blogers and we likes you. You keeps us frum bordom."

Kate Moore said...

Your writing is so visual. Love it.

Woman in a Window said...

Sweet, sweet you. (Where did you come from? And how did you find me?)

Wonderful tale. I don't know if I want to kick the next old lady I see, or give her flowers.

OHmommy said...

Oh wow, i hung onto each word. THAT was amazing!

Someone said...

great story....beautifully written!!

Badass Geek said...

I sometimes think that I'll grow up to be the old man on the street that the kids fear.

I'll be okay with it if that happens.

anymommy said...

Love it. Truly.

Lola said...

Great story! We called "our" mean old lady Witchy Woman. I left her flowers one day after my mother told us she was mean because her son had died. I was too afraid to leave a note.

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