April 2018

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Dinner with Annabella

Last night my partner Ann and I had dinner with one of our favorite people, our neighbor Annabella.

When we, two professional white lesbians, moved into this neighborhood, which had been part of the rough and tumble central district (or "CD") since the 1960s, we were a little nervous. Once, soon after moving into the neighborhood, a motorist slowed down on Martin Luther King Way to roll down his window and holler out, "We don't want you here!" We weren't sure why he didn't want us here. There were so many possibilities: white, female and gay heading the list. Once in those early years a cab driver wanted to refuse to take us home because "that neighborhood is too dangerous." Another time, we came home to a sharpshooter in the yard: a felon who had stabbed a policeman was holed up in the crack house a couple of houses down. Adolescents in bouncing cars raced each other around the circle meant to slow them down. The neighborhood's not so interesting any more, but it was when we first moved here. That was 14 years ago.

Annabella made us feel welcome immediately. One of the neighborhood elders, she called to reply to an open house invitation: "Hi. I'm Annabella. I"m your neighbor. I drink beer." She still doesn't say good-bye when she hangs up. She just hangs up, and I know the phone call is over. We have been fast friends ever since that first phone call. Both she and I have slowed down a little: her ninety years have slowed her down (though she'll point out that she still looks good, and she does), and brain tumors and such have slowed me down. We still drink beer together.

Last night, when we'd each gotten our beer, Annabella, who has lost many of her friends to Alzheimer's and death recently, made a toast: "Here's to those of us who are left."

Annabella shared stories from her past, stories from a time and a culture I've never known. Raised in New Orleans by her mother, who was "One hundred percent Cherokee Indian" and was quick with a switch, Annabella came to Seattle at the beginning of the second world war. Her husband-to-be Brad sent her $13 to pay for her train trip to Seattle. Her mother used the money for their rent. He sent another $13, and again her mother used the money for the rent. The next time, he sent a train ticket, and Annabella headed to Seattle.

Soon after Annabella arrived in Seattle, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and Annabella became a riveter, like Rosie. She'll still show you her muscle. When mechanics needed someone strong, they'd call for "the Indian." Once, a machinist wasn't paying attention and came so close to her head with his saw that he sawed a part down the middle of her long hair. She was okay, but she was mad. She's a Catholic woman, but she can curse a blue streak, which she says she did then. She repeated herself last night for effect, and other diners looked over to make sure everything was okay; then smiled when they saw it was her. When the war was over, Annabella says that everyone else cheered, but she cried. She loved working.

She and Brad cleaned hotels at night, leaving their two young girls in the car, and they hosted poker games until they paid for their home here in the CD. Her cooking and her looks earned them a little extra at the poker table.

Now, at ninety, she still volunteers at the elementary school, which she has been doing for forty years. Every year she sells a dinner at the church auction to raise money for the school and serves about twenty people drinks and okra, jumbalaya and pie. Upsairs, the guests admire her hundreds of dolls and other antinques and sing, "God Bless America." Then everyone heads downstairs for dinner and their choice of pie: sweet potato or pecan among the four or five Southern offerings. Everyone gets a "lagniappe"as they leave, usually something like rubber gloves or a role of paper towels.

Annabella speaks her mind--loudly, since she doesn't hear too well--about race and politics, religion and foolishness. When she talks politics, she talks about Democrats and "those other ones." She and I don't see the world in the same way sometimes, but we've agreed not to talk about issues where we'll simply make one another mad. Sometimes she wades into rough waters, and I'll stop her to say, "Now you know we don't agree about that. You're not going to change my mind, and I'm not going to change yours. Why are you talking about it? Do you want to argue?" She just laughs and shrugs and gives me a high five.

When she's got a complaint, she'll share it and then she'll quote her mom: "If it's not one thing, it's two." That woman's got wisdom.

Annabella's neighbor, Mary


  1. Mary, Mary. This is the most awesome post. Well, every one of your posts is the most awesome post. I love your neighbor, and I haven't even met her. Thanks for sharing her with all of us.

  2. I want to bid on Annabella's dinner!


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