SHE was always “the lady at the mailbox.” I lived across the street from her for 10 years, but because I wasn’t paying attention the first time we met, I never learned her name.
I’d see her once or twice a week at our adjacent mailboxes, and she’d greet me by name every time: “Hi, Adam! How are you?” OK, so she paid attention when we met. I’d mumble a greeting and quickly talk about something going on at my house (ant invasions, the crazy downstairs neighbors, etc.), so she wouldn’t notice that I didn’t address her by name.
After so many conversations, I realized I’d passed the point where I could ask her her name again without embarrassing myself. I had always hoped the mystery would be solved during one of these encounters. Maybe I would catch a glimpse of her name on a piece of mail while we chatted. Maybe she’d tell a story that included her name, like: “So my husband says to me, he says, “Carol, what were you thinking?!” Maybe someone would come out of her house and call her back. But none of that ever happened. She remained, till the day I left that neighborhood, “the lady at the mailbox” to me.
I wasn’t gonna let it happen again. When I met my new next-door neighbors shortly after moving to another house in town recently, I made sure to pay attention. The retiree and his wife (let’s call them “Don and Cindy”) welcomed me to the neighborhood and gave me a not-so-brief history of my house and the ’hood. As soon as our talk ended, I realized I had to act fast before their names evaporated from my memory. I ran inside and wrote them down, as if I were an Alzheimer’s patient. I’d never forget Don and Cindy now — there would be no awkward, mumbled greetings with these folks. I used the same trick when I met my neighbors on the other side of the house — their names are written down on the same cheat sheet I now keep by the front door.
So last week, as I’m getting into my car, I see Don running toward me and waving frantically, as if he’d seen someone cut my brake line. “Hey, Don!” I shouted, confidently, proudly. No mumbling — it was a clear and precise greeting. “Hey, Aaron,” he called back.
“Aaron”?! Well I suppose it could be worse. I could be just “the guy in the driveway” to him.