Mrs. Rust

Florence after Wilfred, maybe?

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, Mrs. Rust came to my mind. All through the years there was always some neighbor lady that taught us respect, honor, and good behavior. This neighbor lady was one of them.

Here is the story of the stout little neighbor lady whose first name we never knew. Was it Florence (the nightingale)? Or maybe it was Freda or Minnie? And what was her husband’s name? Mr. Rust of course, though we never knew him, even if his name was Wilfred or Albert.

At the age of ten, our family moved from one end of the state to ther other. From the cold Siberian northland to the southern spring prairie lands. It did not take us long to get acquainted with our new neighbors. From learning about the school, to the 4-H leaders, to the local dairy supplier we soon had the new sand hills learned well.

The most difficult part was that sand involves sand burs. And sand burs means a lot of flat tires. Thank goodness for our father, their was still a local filling station at the time. But I am sure he patched a fair share of tubes during those days. Bike tires were not the durable mountain bike options that we have today. I remember well the banana seat, two girls, one gallon milk jars and someone always walking one or the other bicycle.

During those days my little brother was not in school yet. So my mother had her hands full with three daughters, stomachs to fill, my little brother, and in the winter a wood stove to fill. During the summer the garden was a top priority along with about fifty chickens to butcher.

And across the dirt expanse we called a street, lived Mrs. Rust. For some reason my mind thinks of her as the bird lady. I don’t know if she fed the birds or not. My memory fails me on that one. But knowing how much our family all looks forward to the return of the Robin Redbreast, putting her in the framework of that spring search seems appropriate. The bird with is rusty shirt would be a great symbol of who Mrs. Rust was for me.

We all have the memory of looking for my brother Wade during those days. One of us girls would search the sandbox, the toy box, the bedrooms, or the strawberry patch. The winner was the one who went over to Mrs. Rust’s house to find him sleeping on her sofa after sharing a snack with her. “Well, that was easy,” my mother would say after Mrs. Rust would say, “Yes, he’s here.” I wonder if he found her house an escape from three older sisters that were all too bossy.

In those days, we did not have a television. My mother and father were both avid readers. And there was the radio of course. Who needed to watch tv when you could read it in a book. I remember getting lost in books. We read books or we found some way to entertain ourselves with real live play!

All of my growing up years, we had to find a neighbor to go to if some school assignment was to watch some television show. While we lived across the street from Mrs. Rust, I was too young for such homework assignments. Though we also had friends homes to attend to such television viewing, it was easiest to just walk over to Florence’s house after school for a little tv time.

Mrs. Rust always accommodated our need for a little screen time. Those days of watching Flipper and Gilligan’s Island were good memories for me. I do not remember any other thing about her house. I do not even remember the snacks or what the house smelled like. I remember our home well, and the view of her house from our porch swing.

Wade’s memories of Mrs. Rust are vague. At age six going towards eight, memories are not as strong. My mother had few memories also. Except that in the seventies, no first name was necessary.

We never knew her first name. While today children are taught to preclude a first name with Ms. or Mister, back then it was always Mister or Misses followed by the surname. Out of respect and honor, we always answered with a “Yes, ma’am” or “no, sir.”

We only lived across from Mrs. Rust for two years. It never occurred to me at my tender age that she may have been lonely. Considering the absence of her Mister was not a thought of mine either. Today my heart is more in tune to such thoughts.

Why would I think of her as a bird lady? So many older people take to watching the birds. I think it’s because the birds come and go alot like visitors, family, or the sunshine. While they look forward to family time and coffee with others, the birds are there at the feeders almost year round. Except for the robins.

Robin redbreast is somewhat of a common bird. In our area it signals the season change quite pleasantly. Our family has an unspoken challenge of who sees the robin first. It seems the volley is between my mother and my second daughter most. It is the pride of the observation that prompts the phone call “I saw a Robin today!”

Many elderly couples take to going south like the robins through the winter. While I was contemplating our families remembrances of Mrs. Rust, how we had moved from north to south to become her neighbor, Robin Redbreast would not leave my mind.

So many elderly women live alone, watching the birds feed at their tubes filled with seed. One time a bird in the nest outside our window cooed for days to get the male to come back to the nest. That lonely call, made me think of the widow who has lost her love of many years.

Then I found this song. It really does speak for itself. Hopefully this is the saddest story I have to tell. Many of the other women on my list, led fulfilled lives in their days alone. And some were quite funny.

Song by Sonya Kitchell. “Robin in the Snow.”

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