Where I grew up, in Fullerton, California, about an hour out of Los Angeles and Hollywood, was an urban ranch-style house on a quiet cul-de-sac. We lived at the end of the cul-de-sac and most of the houses on our street had children, with the exception of the house across the street... Miss Opal Watring.
I remember Miss Opal so fondly, and tried in later years, without success to contact her family to share some good memories. Miss Opal lived across from us, in a tidy small house with an immaculate lawn and rose bushes, that seemed to be always in bloom.
She was a small, spry bird-like woman with a perpetual smile and an ever-present cardigan sweater and sensible shoes.She used to be an elementary school teacher and then retired, and I think she grew lonely for kids to be around. Once she was out watering those beautiful rose bushes in her always trimmed front yard when I was out skateboarding. Back in those days, you must recall, skateboards were very thin and had metal wheels. The sidewalks were treacherous because every fourth section, there was a wood separator, which usually stuck up a bit.
On that particular day, I hit one of those wooden separators and went flying, right into Miss Opal's rose bushes. She came running over and was visibly upset, not for her rose bushes but for me, in case I was injured. I think I was 8 at the time, and was trying to be a big girl about skinning my knees, and not cry too much. She asked me if I was okay and then when she saw how upset I was, she casually asked me if I would like to come for 'tea' the next day. I ran home and told my mom what had happened and as she was cleaning up my skinned knees, she called Miss Opal on the phone to thank her. Mom thanked her for the invitation but said she shouldn't feel obligated to have me over. Miss Opal protested that she sincerely meant the invitation and invited my mom and little sister as well.
The next afternoon, as we walked up the sparkling clean driveway with the trimmed edges and the beautiful rose bushes, I was really nervous. I mean, I was just a kid, what if I broke something in her house? My Mom had dressed us in pretty sundresses and our Sunday church shoes.Our house was pretty kid-proof, but just look at her YARD.
Miss Opal greeted us happily at the door and graciously lead us into her cozy home, with its one recliner chair in front of the lone tv. She had set up at her kitchen table two small chairs, just the right height and size for my sister and me. There were two regular chairs for Mom and Miss Opal. Her kitchen table sat in a sunny corner of her kitchen where she could look out on the street and watch the world go by. I realized how lonely she must be and how watching all the kids on the street playing, bicycling and jump-roping gave her joy.
The table was set with a beautiful cloth tablecloth and real china. I gulped. I had had tea parties with my dollies but those cups were plastic. Mom said softly, "Are you sure plastic cups wouldn't be more appropriate?" Miss Opal sent me a beaming smile and said, "Of course not! We'll be just fine".
And we were.We had sweet tea (I suspect it was koolaid) with sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and hearts that she had baked herself. She and Mom had a lovely chat while my sister and I swung our feet and listened and nibbled on our cookies.
When it was time to go, Mom commented on her beautiful roses. Miss Opal promptly got out her gardening gloves, snippers and a small glass jar and sent us home with some of her prize blooms. Those roses went onto our dining room table and graced our kitchen for many days with their beauty and perfume.
As we walked across the street to our house, I looked back over my shoulder and saw Miss Opal, framed in the window, sadly watching us leave. I waved and she brightened right up and waved back.
We moved from Fullerton in the late 60's and I never saw or heard from Miss Opal again, only that she had retired into a rest home.I only hope that it was near a park or a school, so she could sit at her window and watch the children play, and dream of better days, when little girls in sundresses came for tea.
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