How can a Mongol dwelling remind me of a story about my mother? That's not a rhetorical question. I'm reaching out for help, people. I heard the word "yurt" yesterday. Yurt is a Mongol dwelling. Actually, I don't even know if the person said "yurt". They might have said, "I hurt my finger" or "Do you think Gertrude is a nice name for our new baby"? It doesn't matter because I immediately thought of something that happened forty years ago. We had a demented neighbor who lived across the street in a run down house. He was a short little man that had a loud raspy voice which he used to yell at anyone who crossed his path. His name was Art, but for some reason we referred to him as "Yurt" and we were afraid of him. I don't know why we called him "Yurt". We thought it was a funny name for a mythical figure who escaped from violent children's fable. "Run! Yurt is after us! We dared each other to knock on his door but no one ever had the nerve. There was a wonderful elderly couple who lived in a little cottage right next to Yurt's house. They were even more afraid of Yurt than my friends and I. One summer they were painting their little cottage--just the two of them. Yurt was watching their progress every day. He knew that sooner or later they would need to paint the back of their cottage that was right on the edge of his property. Yurt knew that the old couple would have to put a ladder on his property in order to paint the back of their cottage and he was waiting to pounce on them with flying geriatric fists. The old couple came over to my mother, who liked to sit on her porch in good weather and wait for the next patient.
"Dr. Mary! What can we do? Mr. Kass is waiting for us to trespass on his property so he can scream and wave his fists and call the police. We really need to finish painting our cottage!"
I was listening to the conversation and wondered what my mother would do? She said, "Mr. Kass takes his basket and wheels it down South Chestnut Street to buy groceries for the week. You have about an hour and a half to finish painting the back of the cottage. Have all your materials ready tomorrow afternoon when he leaves for shopping and as soon as he gets out of sight paint as fast as you can!" This was better than a low budget crime picture at the shabby theater on Main street where the popcorn was so old and disgusting that the only reason the kids bought a bag for 10 cents was to dump it on someone's head. I sat on the porch way too excited for a lazy summer afternoon and wondered. Would Yurt surprise the old folks on his property and beat the stuffing out of them? Would he catch them high up on the ladder and kick the ladder out from under them? I sat on our porch--front row seating for the main event. I looked at the old couple slapping paint everywhere. Then I looked at Yurt just coming into sight on South Chestnut. So far he hadn't spotted the mad painters. I leaned back and got comfortable. Any moment now I thought. Yurt finally looked up and let out what was most likely a garbled raspy obscenity. He started yelling and running with his grocery cart. The old couple finished putting paint on the last bare spot and scampered down the ladder. They struggled carrying the ladder and paint supplies as Yurt got closer and closer. It was going to be a photo finish and the winner was Mr. & Mrs. Geezer by a nose. They ran into their house, locked the door and pulled down the shades. Yurt was jumping up and down waving his fists until he wore himself out. Defeated, he slinked back with his weeks food to his ramshackle house.
Years later a normal couple bought Yurt's house and a couple of young guys rented the old folk's cottage. The neighborhood was no where near as fun. Everything changed except my mother. Desperate people--either physically or emotionally sick would come to her with impossible problems and she knew what to say and how to help them. Toward the end of her life I came home to her house in Maine and saw a sobbing lady being swallowed by my mother who was sobbing right along with her. They never saw me. I'm confident that she was doing exactly the right thing.