I was such a lonely kid. A skinny little guy. My parents both worked. I fixed my own breakfast and lunch, usually a can of soup. An empty house awaited me after school or in the summer. I often wet my bed. In those days I would have been termed neurotic. But my mind was turning on. Nature was so appealing as spring broke. I loved nature, but also chemistry.
Today was a blending of both. I learned that sulfur fumes were used to bleach paper and cloth and would even bleach flowers. I had cleaned out a peanut butter jar for an experiment. I wandered around a garden bed bordering a neighbor's house. We had just moved in. My jar was filled with the fumes of sulfur. I was breaking off a lilac flower as a little figure appeared.
"I hope you're not catching insects, are you? They frighten me, but they have a right to be free."
This was how I met Minerva Flavin, who was to be my friend.
We talked. I told her about my experiment of bleaching flowers. She was interested! At last someone cared.
As I told Minnie of my interest in the sulfur dioxide, she looked with fascination. I opened the jar and placed the lilac blossom inside.
We continued to talk. She treated me as adult. She was the last of her line I found later. Her parents were long dead and she had never married. When she was gone, she said her family would all be dead.
I held up the jar. The lilac had turned white. Minnie was astonished. "My, my," she exclaimed. "Let's try some other flowers."
Dandelions refused to turn white, but violets lost their color. A little moisture helped I learned.
The summer passed too fast, as it does for children. But not my friendship with Minnie. I would ring her doorbell and she would invite me up. Her furniture was covered with cloths, the shutters were closed, the house was dark. At the top of the stairs I could hear the hiss of the gas jet on her little stove. She lived upstairs. Her front room was her little kitchen, in a closet. She had no refrigerator and cooled things, like butter, with wet cloths over earthenware crocks.
She had been a seamstress and still had her long bladed shears. She and her friends used to go to the opera, she said, eyes sparkling. On a shelf were her opera glasses.
"Would you care for some coffee?" she asked. Coffee was forbidden to children in our house. "It will stunt your growth," I was told. I had some anyway. The taste was so strange to a pop drinking kid--so strong. But I liked it and never forgot my first cup.
Minnie was Irish. Many in the neighborhood were, but she really was. A staunch Catholic, she had a large picture of the Sacred Heart over the fireplace. I had gone to her house at Halloween, dressed as a cowboy. She did not answer the doorbell. I found out she believed the dead came out of their graves on this night. It was no happy time for her.
Years passed. I did not see her much. One day the mailman walked off her porch. As he passed a clump of grass, he had a frightened look. There was Minnie trying to cut the grass with her seamstress shears, her white hair blowing in the wind. Her yard had gone wild, and she fought it.
Soon her little body was carried out of her home, covered with a wine colored cloth. A hearse had backed into her drive crushing some of the high grass. Soon the grass recovered. It rose up. It was as if Minnie had never lived. But not to me.