By Zachary Juno and Andre Arriaga
The corner of Edie and Schuyler Avenues in Boulevard Heights will never be the same. Mrs. Briggs, a very kind and lovely soul, left the world April 23, 2011. Ours was a friendship that was started over the fence by swapping stories. I remember thinking that our meeting was a cool southern in-town neighborhood cliché. I introduced myself to Mrs. Briggs while we were both raking leaves in the fall of 2006. She welcomed me to the neighborhood, and we shared a friendship that I will treasure forever.
Mrs. Briggs (she insisted we call her Mary, but we just couldn’t), was in her seventies, and yet more disciplined and self-sufficient than people half her age. In fact, we’d often see her raking and bagging her own leaves throughout the fall and winter. I felt guilty for complaining about raking my own yard, since she had a double lot and was more than twice my age. It was in the yard where we first began to chat and swap stories on what was going on in the neighborhood. She was sharp as a tack and never at a loss for words when letting us know what would happen if someone made the mistake of trespassing in her own yard (she owned a .38). When we came to visit, she would share stories of what it was like growing up rurally with nothing but farm-fresh food that her family and neighbors grew and raised and brought to the table. She spoke of her faith in God, her life as a nurse, her children, and her husband that she lost so many years ago when they first moved into the house next to mine.
In the summer, she spent most of the afternoons on her porch with Cindy, her beloved little Chihuahua, and never failed to wave to us when we drove or walked by. She had the prettiest plants and grew tomatoes in pots and always shared extras with us. Mrs. Briggs also liked to cook, and after I told her how much I’d love to try them, made us fried peach pies, one of her specialties. She once shared with me her clever little method for keeping discarded peelings or food from rotting in the garbage by putting it into a bag she kept in the freezer until it was time to put out on trash day. She spent the last several Thanksgivings with my family at our house. She didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, but that didn’t stop her from bringing an icy lemon and gin concoction she called “Destroyer” with her to the first Thanksgiving Day dinner she shared with us. She was at our table this past November as well, and it was beginning to feel like the beginning of a very nice tradition with Mari and Charlie (Andre’s parents), Ana (Andre’s sister), JoAnn (my mom), and Mrs. Briggs all around the table together.
She gave great hugs, the kind that last longer than you’d expect and made you feel guilty for pulling away first before she did. It was wonderful knowing her, and I will always remember her calmness and honesty, her down to earth manner, and quiet strength. We are going to miss her terribly.
It’s funny, I believe that people come into our lives for a lifetime, a reason, or a season; and my relationship with Mrs. Briggs is no exception. On the surface, it was easy to see the difference between Mrs. Briggs and me; but we shared many things in common and I learned many life lessons from our shared experience. I have found that when I can get quiet and present in the moment, there is always a lesson to be learned. We’re all so busy, and it’s super easy to get wrapped up in our own lives. If I had stayed inside my own home, equipped with all the modern comforts, and failed to actually reach out to a neighbor and invest in a friendship, I would have missed a true treasure in my life. Our friendship wasn’t cultivated by friending each other on Facebook or replying to her on the Google group list serve. It was the old-fashioned tradition of walking next door and introducing myself.
Mrs. Briggs, you will never be forgotten. I will carry your story in my heart. Thank you for blessing my life with a touch from yours. I hope everyone who reads this makes a new and lasting friendship in this wonderful neighborhood we live in.
Remembering a Beautiful Neighbor – Mrs. Mary C. Briggs
By Zachary Juno and Andre Arriaga