Must the Tree Grow as the Twig is Bent?

Storytelling groups are springing up all over the city. One of them recently called for stories about the best and worst neighbors. It got me thinking about a next-door neighbor whom I’ll call Olga,

Olga became very involved in community life. She joined the bridge club and said to one of the founding members, “Pregnant again? Don’t you know when to quit?”

She volunteered to coach her daughter’s Little League team and was famous for inspiring the 3rd graders with encouragements like “C’mon, honey. Hustle that fat ass!” This engendered complaints, but Olga defended herself by pointing out that her team was in first place. Still, she wasn’t invited back.

But she really enjoyed entertaining children. So for her home decorations on Halloween, she created the most elaborate display in the neighborhood with a battery-operated guillotine chopping off a doll’s head, accompanied by a looped recording of horrid screams. Parents had to quickly backtrack to protect the tender sensibilities of their young ones.

Olga was constantly baking and liked to take her unusual dessert concoctions – some kind of soggy fruity pastry — to new neighbors. I thought of her as Martha Stewart on steroids for her indefatigable desire to show off her skills.

She was hospitality itself, and held a baby shower for a pregnant new neighbor. As all were assembled to watch the neighbor open gifts, Olga asked the mother-to-be, Sally, “What are you going to name him or her?”

Sally said, “We know it’s a boy and we’re naming him Arthur.”

Olga became irate. “You can’t name him Arthur. My son’s name is Arthur.”

 “My husband’s name is Arthur,” Sally replied, “And so are his father and grandfather.”

“C’mon. There are plenty of other names.”

Sally dropped the subject and quietly disappeared. Her family moved away soon after Arthur was born

Olga invited me sailing. I’m a sailor but didn’t own a boat, and was happy for the chance to be on the Bay. She didn’t seem to be trying very hard to get us clear of the harbor and I soon understood why. She said, “Here, take the tiller, but hold back while some of those boats move out of the way.” So I let the sails luff and couldn’t help but notice that she was stripping.as she sang, “Wild women do and they don’t regret it,” an annoying song by Natalie Cole that I wasn’t familiar with but that was popular with the country music crowd. Relieved of her clothes, she jumped into the water. Neighboring boats had stopped to watch and were tooting their horns in support.

Later at the bridge group Olga kept prodding me to recount our sailing trip. Not wanting to help her amplify her self-image as a “wild woman,” I shared everything about that outing except the fact that she’d stripped naked in a harbor full of men. She kept sending evil glances my way.

She volunteered to serve on the Community Association board and signed up for the holiday parties committee. Since it was everyone’s least favorite committee because it required the most work, fellow board members were grateful that someone with energy was taking it on. The neighborhood always held a cookout toward the end of summer. Olga took up a collection from the neighbors in order to one of those inflatable bounce houses for the kids. Except she also ordered inflatable boxing gloves.

Olga wasn’t unattractive, but let’s just say she wasn’t in the best of shape and in no way as desirable as she imagined. Still, she was convinced that two of the HOA board members had a crush on her. She said she could tell by the way they always asked her to tone it down during the meetings, and to please wait her turn and quit interrupting. Before the annual party, she had publicly challenged one of these secret admirers – the one who was half her size – to a boxing match.

Though he didn’t live in the neighborhood, her father attended and cheered her on with “C’mon Olga – get his fat ass.” thus clarifying where she’d learned that phrase, among other things. She did pound the little guy. I guess she got his ass.

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2 thoughts on “Must the Tree Grow as the Twig is Bent?”

  1. I assume that Olga is no longer a neighbor. She’s great for a yarn, that’s for sure, even if her other qualities are/were a little hard to take. I’m also assuming you don’t play bridge. But I could be wrong about that.

    Love your characters and your family memories.

  2. Thanks Susan. I used to play bridge when my parents had a single friend over and they needed a fourth. That neighborhood group pretty much used bridge as an excuse to eat cookies. I’ve heard that the rules of bridge are a lot different now so if I play again, it’ll have to be with people who don’t know the rules.

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