Life With Ferris: Please, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

  • Monday, March 4, 2024
  • Ferris Robinson

The house next door is going on the market. My daughter-in-law, Julianna Robinson, is listing it and she is instructed to find a neighbor (nay-bah) who will appreciate not only the private wooded setting and the classic, well-built structure, but also the unmitigated mischief that has surely settled deep in the bones of this home. Read on for a glimpse of this home’s owner.

On Thanksgiving, Mefran Campell was in fine form. My husband escorted her across our neighboring yards, and she arrived perfectly coiffed and decked for the holiday as she joined my jostling, boisterous, overfilled house of grandchildren and nieces and nephews and in-laws and siblings and spouses, all talking at once and toasting the occasion.

Mefran was in the thick of it, of course, bellied up to the kitchen counter, making sure all glasses were filled, and entertaining the masses. She knew everyone there, but it wouldn’t have mattered. She never met a stranger.

After dinner and desert and a gazillion simultaneous conversations, Mefran excused herself from the table and headed into the even more packed living room where folks were playing board games on the floor, clustered in every walkway and huddled around the football game. She caught my husband’s eye across the room, pointed right at him, then jerked her thumb toward the door. He knew it was time to escort her across the yard to home.

Mefran always acted like I did her favors. I did find her missing cell phone after a few days with the find-my-phone app. It was in the upstairs closet where she had been gift wrapping. That and loaning a bike to her grandson were really the only things of note.

She was the one who did for me. When my granddaughter, Mary Jane, had a terrible cough when she was an infant and her parents were out of town, I took her over to Mefran, a retired nurse. We sat in the waiting room (Mefran’s terrace) while Mefran cajoled Mary Jane with a stethoscope before to great relief to us both, pronounced her lungs were clear.

A couple of years ago, I sat down on a log in the woods in Marion County that housed a yellow jacket nest and was stung 16 times, including a couple on my head. Panicked over tales my father had told me about the danger of stings on the temple, I called Mefran. She was in the middle of mah jongg but she took my call, a true measure of her love for her “nay-bas.” She and her daughter, Kathy, a physician’s assistant, talked me through my panic, told me what to do, and stayed on the phone with me until I was calm. I will never forget it.

Mefran was a core member of the window’s group, core as in hardcore. Also known as Rodney’s ladies, these gals meet at the Lookout Mountain Club for happy hour and appetizers and were grandfathered in for perpetuity at the club for this tradition. Jojo, Peggy, Winkie, Becky, Judy, Leland and more fun ladies enjoyed gathering and laughing and connecting and toasting each other. Nothing sedate about ’em, and other gatherings always paled in comparison to their fun table that was/is only for widows.

“Yep, these husbands betta look out because only widows are allowed in the group,” Mefran quipped.

She put on the dog at Christmas every single year until this last one. She hosted the entire Bartram Road neighborhood, as well as her friends. She told me I could be her bitch, which basically meant calling Margy and asking her to bring ice (not Mefran’s strong suit). Mefran saw to evertything else, from the beef tenderloin to the liquor to the silver chafing dishes.

This past summer, our Bartram mayor Ashley Williams hosted a block party, which Mefran declined. Her sons Chuck and David due to arrive, and she had bridge that afternoon and a hair appointment and just too much going on to attend. Her response was unanimously denied, and her attendance demanded. So, she zoomed by the gathering a couple of times before walking up the hill dressed like a million bucks and glowing, escorted by her handsome sons.

She was always taking our blood pressure and monitoring our oxygen, but about that stethoscope, a couple of years ago when I was sick, I texted Mefran that I was masked up and in the waiting room. She came out and listened to my chest for a while, then said she thought my lungs sounded okay.

She joked that she needed to put out some magazines for my frequent visits, then said, “You know I’m totally deaf and can’t hear a thing.”

Mefran defied aging. The wear and tear of life and its toils and heartbreaks and disappointments. Physically, obviously. Those cheekbones! That skin! Her hair and clothes! She was a head turner at 92. But Mefran was 100 percent in the game (literally with bridge and mah jongg and hand-and-foot) of life. She was hell bent on living life to the fullest, grabbing the gusto and soaking it all up. Sucking the verry marrow, to quote Thoreau.

To talk to her, you’d think she led a charmed life. That every single thing had to have gone her way.

How could any one person be so delightful, hilarious, naughty and thoughtful? I mean, who gives gifts in bags labeled “Stuff you do not want” and notepads inscribed with “Bad ideas?” And who writes a thank-you note with instructions “neh-vah” to serve her that soup again. (It was lentil.)

Everything did not go exactly her way. She was widowed at 29 with five small children. She couldn’t take to her bed, or beat her breast and mope, all things I imagine she wanted to do. Same when she buried one of her children. Same when she had long-term Covid. Same when she realized she would need radiation for the cancer slowly growing in her eye.

On Christmas day Mefran opened the front door and hollered at us as we walked past her house.

“I HAVE COVID!” she bellowed.

Concerned, we asked how she felt.

Fully dressed in a red holiday sweater and looking like her standard million bucks, she yelled, “I feel horrible!”

I left chicken soup on her doorstep the next day, a couple of stray lentils taped to the lid, but never heard from her. Her daughter Kathy was with her, but I was concerned for them both. Two days later, Kathy texted that it was very serious, and her body was failing. A few days later, she died.

I like to think that Mefran knew the disease had ravaged her body beyond repair, that she wouldn’t be able to live on her terms anymore. And with that realization she spotted God somewhere amidst the folks there waiting on her, pointed right at him, and jerked her thumb right toward the pearly gates.

And what a celebration there was when she arrived a few minutes past New Year’s Eve.

---

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.

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