Soon after my parents were married, they made a down payment on a new house. It was a few years after World War II and a developer was building 30 nearly identical houses to be sold to veterans of the war. They were three-bedroom homes with a living room, dining room, and a single bathroom. To my young eyes, it was a fine home.
The Lomax family lived next door. Five of them: George and Lucille, their two adult sons, and one daughter-in-law, moved into their new home in 1947.
George and Lucille were retired, or unemployed, or both. Frank, a bachelor and an Army veteran, was the buyer of the house. For some reason, Frank paid the mortgage and all the household expenses. His married brother Bert was a podiatrist (Frank paid for his education), but Bert and his wife Melanie paid only for their groceries, which they kept separate from the rest of the food in the house.
It was an odd arrangement but it seemed to work for the Lomaxes. Lomax logic, we called it.
When Bert and Melanie began having children (a boy and a girl), they all shared the same bedroom until the daughter got married and, mercifully, moved out. We called that arrangement too creepy to think about.
Although Bert didn’t pay for the upkeep of the house, he did like to mow the lawn. Once a week in the summer, he’d pull out the old lawn mower and push it around the front and back yards. In hot weather, he would strip down to his T-shirt and boxer shorts before he started mowing.
“For crying out loud, Bert,” Mom once told him, “why don’t you wear some Bermuda shorts?”
“Oh, I look like hell in shorts,” Bert told her.
They had a Collie named Rover because, well, he did rove all over the neighborhood. Rover loved to chase cars and apparently was pretty good at it because his nose was always scraped raw. When he wasn’t chasing cars, he’d make the rounds of he neighborhood, looking for handouts. The Lomaxes always fed him table scraps, so Rover tended to belch and pass gas a lot, gracing us with the aroma of the previous night’s spaghetti dinner.
If a neighbor suggested that Rover needed a better diet, the entire Lomax family would stop speaking to them for an unspecified amount of time. Since the Lomaxes were easily offended about any number of perceived slights, all the neighbors would cycle on and off their “No Talk” list. Sometimes we would forget if we were on their list and would have to ask someone if they knew.
When George Lomax suddenly died of a heart attack at home, Bert knocked on the door of our neighbors the Martins, and asked Virginia Martin if she would stay with George until the ambulance arrived. Then they all climbed in the car and drove back to their hometown in Pennsylvania.
Virginia agreed, stopping by our house first to get my mother to come with her. “I thought they weren’t speaking to you,” Mom said. “I know they aren’t speaking to us, although I’m not sure why.”
They decided that this act of kindness wouldn’t get them off the list. Given that the living Lomaxes were already on the road and that George wouldn’t be doing much talking, no Lomax would be speaking to either of them.
When the ambulance and police arrived, the policeman tried to get some information for his report: the deceased’s full name, place of birth, spouse’s name, and so on. Mom and Virginia answered as best they could, but they really weren’t certain.
The policeman was confused. Who could answer? Where was the family?
“On their way to Pennsylvania,” Virginia told him. Fortunately for both women, the policeman believed them.
After the medics took poor George away, Mom and Virginia stripped the still-warm sheets off of his bed and laundered them. They re-made the bed, tidied up the kitchen, and walked next door to our house to have a cup a tea and try to understand what just happened.
Apparently, after the Lomaxes called the ambulance, they called the funeral home as well, because George did eventually join the family in Pennsylvania for his funeral.
A week later when the Lomaxes finally came home, they never thanked either Mom or Virginia. It seems they truly were still on the “No Talk” list.