Ornery, tough, humorous, independent ... very independent... these are some of the words I would use to describe the woman who was myneighbor, my grandma and my friend. Her name was Marian Miller, but I, andeveryone in our family, called her Mrs. Miller.
She lived in a littlehouse right alongside ours. It was a quaint place, not too big and not too small.She lived alone; her husband had died long before we knew her, which she wouldtell you was not totally a bad thing.
The best way to explain her husbandis to tell you the famous honeymoon story. The newlyweds decided to spend theirhoneymoon in a cabin in the woods. It just so happened that this cabin was in oneof the best hunting areas in all of Pennsylvania, and it also happened that herhusband was an avid hunter. Needless to say, her husband went hunting every daywith the groundskeeper! From that point on, her marriage went downhill. Butthrough this and many other difficult times, though, Mrs. Miller always kept hersense of humor.
I remember when we moved into our house, I felt so sad toleave our old neighbors. I remember sitting alone for what seemed hours on ourfront porch. Suddenly a little brown dog who had the look of a sheep with mattedwool and bright, little eyes that, when visible, begged you to be her friend,came running to join me. I heard a booming voice from across the yard."Seems she found a friend!"
I looked up to see the woman whowould end up having such an enormous impact on me. In her hands was a metal pot."I've got a present for you guys," she announced. I stood in awe,mesmerized by the wonderful smell emanating from the lidded pot. She then headedstraight for the garage and through the door that led to our kitchen, a traitthat would become her characteristic way of entering our house.
"Ihate going through the front door," she said. I jumped up, wondering whoexactly this woman was and went to open the door for her. "Sit down,"she jokingly yelled. "I've been around long enough to know how to knock on adoor!" She began laughing, "Oh yeah, by the way, I live in the brickhouse next to you. My name is Mrs. Miller." She repeated this information tomy mother, who opened the door and welcomed Mrs. Miller in. I followed her andthe hypnotizing smell.
She set the pot on the stove. "It's not much,but it will pull you through the night," she told us. My mother, whilethanking her, walked over and uncovered the mystery. Inside was the source of theheavenly aroma. I couldn't wait for a taste.
"They're porcupinemeatballs!" Mrs. Miller informed me. "I was walking up the highway theother day and saw a dead porcupine, so I decided to make some meatballs!"she said with a smile.
My face, already stained from shoveling themeatballs into my mouth, turned white. I was able to mumble, "You'rejoking," while spraying what was left of the porcupine across the room. Shehad this way that made you think she was kidding, but you weren't sure. She beganher trademark laugh that could never be mistaken for anyone else. "Nope,they're a hundred percent pure porcupine," she insisted. By then I knew shewas kidding and was able to breathe. This is the type of humor that made Mrs.Miller unique.
As I grew up, I realized just how special she was. Then mymaternal grandmother died, and I was left with only my grandparents on myfather's side, who lived in Florida. Mrs. Miller took over the grandma spot in myheart. She was so unlike the stereotypical frail grandma; she was always in heryard, cigarette in hand, mowing the grass, planting her garden, picking fruitfrom trees or grapes from her vines.
Mrs. Miller was always there withsympathetic words to get me through the rough times: "What the hell are youworried about now?" she'd demand to know. She was great! It turned out thather bringing over food was not a one-time thing. At least twice a week we wouldcome home to the message "Call the Deli" on our answering machine. Shewould leave short messages because she hated answering machines.
Thegreatest way to end the day was to go over to Mrs. Miller's, kick back, and watchsome TV with her. There was only one time of the day that she did not wantguests: when her stories were on. She loved watching "Days of OurLives," and she could not consider it a good day if she didn't get to see"The Price is Right."
It was also the place to go if you weresick. She would stock up on soup and other supplies just waiting for me to getsick. There was nowhere else I'd rather be than stretched out on her couch withher preparing every kind of food imaginable.
Mrs. Miller was a woman of amillion stories. She had a story or snappy comeback for every event, and I lovedthem all. One day when my family was at her house, my parents started talkingabout the idea of trading each other in for a new spouse. My dad started it bysaying that he was thinking about trading in my mother for two 20-year-olds. Mymom decided she would forget age and go straight for someone with a lot of money.Mrs. Miller jumped right in, "My man's just the way I like him," which,of course, was six feet under!
Whenever she asked us to do something,which was next to never, we would do it. That's why on the night before herdeath, I went out to get her newspaper. If it sounds like I just suddenlyswitched to the subject of her death, that's because her death was very sudden.The night that I retrieved her paper was the last time anyone saw her alive. Shehad a heart attack and died in her sleep. She was found the next morning when afriend became alarmed that she didn't answer the phone. Mrs. Miller never droveso she was usually home. The friend immediately called the police, whocalled my parents at work. They knew something wasn't right when they heardHeidi, her dog, barking hysterically and clawing at the door. My mother ran toour house and grabbed her key. She found Mrs. Miller lying peacefully in bed.
When I heard the news, I was shocked. At first I thought it was some eviljoke my parents were playing on me, but then reality set in. We all knew she hada bad heart and her smoking was not a good thing, but not now, not today. I hadjust visited her the night before and she seemed fine! I still, to this day, kickmyself for not noticing something, anything, that would have made me realizesomething was wrong.
My life, and that of my family's, is very differentnow. Our comfort spot is gone, along with the sparkle from our neighborhood. Shemade every day special. Hunting was more fun then because she always got excitedwhen I shot anything; she even cooked my first squirrel. And speaking of cooking,my mother has to cook more now because there are no more messages telling us tocall the Deli. We're all a little richer for having known Mrs. Miller, but theonly trouble is that with her passing, we're all a little sadder, too.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.