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I was opening mail in the office the other day, when two mailing labels neatly cut from one of our magazines fell out of an envelope along with a handwritten letter. The person was asking us to remove the name from our mailing list, because the woman had passed away. I picked up the label and kind of lost my breath. It was Mrs. Matecki.

Mrs. Matecki lived about six houses down from my house when I was growing up. I lived in a Philadelphia row home, so six houses isn’t very far. It’s a few cement steps and sloped lawns away. I could cut across my neighbors’ houses and be there in about 15 seconds. I did that a lot, because I loved Mrs. Matecki. And she loved me.

Mrs. Matecki was married and didn’t have any children. I would spend afternoons at her house. I don’t remember what we would do, because she didn’t have games or toys. And she never turned on her TV. Sometimes we would sit at her kitchen table and talk. This was all through elementary school, so me being so young and spending time talking with an adult is surprising. But I was aware how much Mrs. Matecki enjoyed our conversations. She was happy asking me questions about school and listening to anything I would tell her.

Sometimes we would sit on her front steps in the evening, and other neighbors would join us. Or we would take a short walk. When my mom went back to work, she would call Mrs. Matecki to stay with me if I was sick and couldn’t go to school. That was the best, because we always spent time at her house, but on these days, the two of us could hang out in my house. It was fun, even if I was sick.

Mrs. Matecki was incredibly caring and warm. I was keenly aware – and still am today – that she cherished me. I’m grateful to her for adding so many precious memories to my childhood.

But even as a child, I was also aware that Mrs. Matecki was nervous – really nervous, and pretty much all the time. Sometimes she almost seemed frantic, and I never knew why. I thought that was just part of her personality, and maybe that is true.

Looking back with my adult mind, though, her husband was an alcoholic, and I’m pretty sure she was afraid of him. I think I sensed her fear. Many times when I was at her house, she would hurry me out, because he would be home soon. I think the times she became frantic were the times he would be home any minute, and I was still there.

I have no idea what went on inside her house when he was home. I just knew if he was there, I wouldn’t see her. It never occurred to me that probably wasn’t a good thing.

Sometimes I would knock on her door in the evening to ask if she would sit with me on the step. When she answered, I could see into the house.

Mr. Matecki would always be sitting in an armchair positioned directly across from the TV, and it would be on. They didn’t have any other chairs around the TV, and he was so much bigger than the one he sat in, that he poured out of its two sides. I formed two opinions of him: he was really big and not very nice. I was more than happy to leave their house before he got home from work.

Mrs. Matecki passed away last year; her husband died many years before her. She had a subscription to the magazine, so I guess in a way I was still having visits with her. I never told her the impact she had on my childhood, and that’s sad. I hope somehow she knew. I hope that one night sitting on the steps, I said something only a kid would say that let her know I cherished her too.

 

Follow Marianne Aleardi on Instagram and on Twitter.

July 2017
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