63: That Haggerty Woman

63: That Haggerty Woman

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

That Haggerty Woman

Stubbornness does have its helpful features. You always know what you are going to be thinking tomorrow.

~Glen Beaman

I never referred to her as Mrs. Haggerty or as Bertha Haggerty. To me she was always “That Haggerty Woman” because I didn’t like her.

I didn’t exactly know why I didn’t like her except I didn’t like the way she dressed like an old hippie in tie-dyed skirts and shirts. I didn’t like that she drove a big noisy truck when everyone else in the neighborhood drove quiet, sensible cars. I didn’t like the changes she was making to the house next door, the house where my best friend Joyce had lived before she moved away three months before.

One day, my eight-year-old son Peter was using his magnifying glass to look at leaves when he discovered if he held the glass close to the leaves the sun would set them on fire. Peter also set a nearby pile of leaves on fire, which started a small grass fire. The wind blew the flames straight into That Haggerty Woman’s yard.

Luckily, I saw the fire and put it out with the water hose. There was no serious damage except for a small black patch of grass in my yard and a big black pile of burned ashes that had once been grass in the Haggertys’ yard.

There was nothing I could do but march my son to her house. Both of us would have to apologize, and I would offer to pay for the damage.

There was no one on earth I hated apologizing to more than that woman.

I considered baking a cake or taking her some homemade jelly, but that would look like a bribe. No, I had to show up empty handed and repentant and grovel at her feet.

Peter and I looked at each other. I don’t know who was more nervous and scared when I knocked on her door.

The door opened only wide enough to show one eye.

“I’ve come to apologize,” I said quickly, “I’m afraid my son was playing and accidently set a fire and burned some of your grass. I’m sorry and I’ll pay for the damage.”

The door opened wider.

“You didn’t get hurt, did you?” she asked Peter.

“No,” Peter said, “I’m sorry about the fire.”

She looked past us at the black patch in her yard.

“That’s not so bad. The grass will grow back,” she said. “Don’t worry about paying me anything.”

I was overwhelmed by her unexpected generous, forgiving nature.

“When I was twelve, I had a junior scientist chemistry set. I started a fire in my father’s garage,” she smiled, “He forgave me and in that same spirit, I forgive you. After all, we shouldn’t discourage a young scientist, should we? No hard feelings, okay?”

I was feeling small and petty.

“I guess we haven’t formally met. I’m Bertha,” she said.

“I’m Holly.” I took her hand.

“Would you like to come in for coffee?” she asked.

“Yes, thank you. Peter, run home and get the blueberry muffins I baked this morning and bring them back here,” I said, and followed Bertha inside.

“You aren’t a very friendly person, are you?” she asked bluntly.

What? I couldn’t have heard her correctly. I’m very friendly! I have lots of friends. I help people all the time. I volunteer at my church. I help the Boy Scouts. I belong to clubs and charitable organizations!

I was friendly to everyone! Except, she was right. I hadn’t been friendly to her at all. When my friend Joyce sold her house and moved far away the loss was sharp and deep. Childishly, I was determined not to like whoever bought the house, as if Joyce leaving was their fault.

“You’re right,” I confessed, “I’m afraid I’ve resented you moving into my friend’s house and changing things as if you were erasing her ever living here. Joyce loved her rose garden and she spent years planting bushes and caring for them and you dug all of them up and got rid of them the first week you lived here.”

“I’m allergic to roses. I have hay fever and asthma. I donated the rose bushes to the Valley View Retirement home. Your friend’s roses are alive and well and being enjoyed by many people,” she said.

“Oh,” I said meekly, “I wish I’d known. I’ve misjudged you terribly. I’d like to start fresh. Welcome to the neighborhood. We have sixty-two very nice people and one old grouch, which apparently is me, but I’ll change.”

She laughed.

“Do you play cards?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Do you like to cook? Do you knit?”

“No,” she said. “Do you like hiking, rock climbing, or canoeing?”

“No,” I said.

The list went on as we searched for common ground.

We discovered that we had nothing in common, agreed on almost nothing, didn’t share any interests, disagreed on religion and politics, but in spite of it all, we liked each other and made each other laugh.

That Haggerty Woman turned out to be a good neighbor and a good friend.

She’s not Joyce, but that’s okay. I like that Haggerty woman and I hope she never moves away.

~Holly English

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