I met Marija twice. The first time when I was working as a property surveyor around Hamtramck. I took pictures of properties and recorded data from the sidewalk. I saw this eager woman with a strong accent standing on her porch and, before I knew it, she was dragging me by my upper arm into her front door so she could show me her water bill. Way too high, apparently. She asked me if I had a boyfriend and said I was “mental sick” when I said “no.” I loved her accent and her intimate aggressiveness. She was a funny stranger who made an impression, and that was it.
The same day that I met Marija, I met another memorable person the next street over. Strange story short- his house became my house when I moved in 18 months later. I’d forgotten all about Marija until I saw that stocky old-world frame standing at the fence of my new backyard one sunny day. Once I heard that incredible accent again, I knew she was the woman with the water bill!
She was a neighbor in the truest sense, we talked about our homes, our yards, our bills, my cat, our other neighbors. When I stopped by, she would usually be watching a game show on TV. When she came to my house, I was usually working harder than she thought was reasonable and she would remind me that I really was mental sick.
She was the stereotypical fretful grandma, clucking at me for unknowable offenses and even getting mad about things that really didn’t affect her, like my lack of a hat on a cold day. She had a temper and she often aimed it at me, but I liked her friendship more than I minded her harshness. I’d just let a few weeks go by until some neighborly topic cropped up or I happened to walk by her door, and we’d be back at it again. I wasn’t the only one she was hard on- I’ve never been in a place of business with Marija where she didn’t extract some kind of deal from the workers or the customers. Thanks for the free coffee, Marija!
I know exactly why I loved her. She instantly helped to make my new house a home. She was part of the infrastructure of my growing community. It meant everything to know that she was there and that she cared. I saved many of the voicemails that she left me because I just loved the way she sounded and what she had to say.
Sometimes, on a drive to the Comcast store, or a visit to Randazzo for discount produce (and free bananas), Marija would tell me about her life. Continue reading