When I was growing up on Cape Cod, our next door neighbors were the Crimmins’ sisters. They were at least 150 years old and their names were “Honey” and “Tess”. They both had these tremendous noses with little white whiskers poking out all over, and I could never really tell which sister was Honey and which one was Tess.
I wouldn’t say I was afraid of them, but they made me a little nervous as all old people tended to do to me at that age. It is unusual to see siblings of that age together, never mind living under the same roof, as your next door neighbors. Their house was a small cottage, and the yard was full of overgrown rhododendrons. Honey, I think, always seemed to be wandering around the yard, wearing a hat and gardening gloves, carrying tiny branch clippers. She was constantly tending to her forrest of rhododendrons, a tireless task.
They had a clothesline in the backyard which always dawned the obligatory moo-moos and skirted one-piece bathing suits which, in perpetuity, were flapping in the wind. My brother and I used to cut through their backyard to get to our school bus stop, and I’d often think about how god-awful it would be to get slapped in the face with the crotch of an old lady bathing suit while trying to get to the bus. I definitely turned on the jet-pack until I was past the clothesline.
Honey and Tess seemed like your average old ladies; totally harmless and maybe a little senile. I really never thought about them too much until, one day, when my mom received a phone call from old Tess. Tess had called to ask if my mom would buy her some vodka on the sly. This came as a surprise because we had already been living next door to them for many years and hadn’t before heard from Tess on the matter of smuggling vodka. What was more alarming was the secrecy of the request. She wanted the vodka to be in “nip” form, and had specific delivery instructions. She asked that my mother send “little David” around the back of their house to her bedroom window after dark with the “package”. Tess referred to my brother as “little David”, which was my father’s name; my brother’s name, incidentally, is John. My mom, though moderately concerned by the clandestine nature of the matter, obliged. She was of the generation where elders were not disobeyed and turning the other cheek was common practice and, truthfully, who would want to deny a 150 year-old lady a drink?
Later that afternoon, my mom came home with a brown bag full of nips of Absolut vodka. I don’t think she wanted my brother and I knowing what was going down, but I’d mistaken the brown bag for groceries and asked her what all the little bottles of alcohol were about, so she told us the story. Plus, my older brother, being the mule, never would have complied without the full details.
That evening, after dark, just as old Tess had commanded, my mom and I waited, watching out the window while my brother left through our back door with the brown paper bag. He returned a few moments later and told us that, when he was within view, he saw a single pointer finger dangling out Tess’s bedroom window making the “come hither” motion – terrifying. We all peed ourselves laughing, and that was the first of many of those deliveries. I think the supply was gone within a couple days and the ritual continued for some time.
Learning about Tess’ vice made me infinitely more curious about the old ladies. It got me asking more questions about them and why they lived together. I learned they had both been widows. I never met Honey’s children if she had any, but Tess’s daughter-in-law later ended up being one of my favorite elementary school teachers, which was such a bizarre coincidence. It is so hard to identify with old people when you’re young. Their lives are seemingly totally un-relatable, as if they’ve completely forgotten about their time as a child. I never really heard old people talk much either, so I mostly viewed them as scary, deteriorating bodies. I was probably only ten years old when we started delivering vodka to Tess, but this experience inspired me to dig a little deeper. It definitely didn’t make her any less scary, but it did make her seem more “alive” for whatever reason. Finding out that old people had secrets and desires was something I’d never considered before. It could have served as a great conversation starter for me with other old people I’d encountered, had I not still been so scared of them. I could have said, “I have a neighbor who’s about your age and my mom and brother are trafficking vodka to her. Do you like vodka, too?”
My parents ended up divorcing and we moved from that house in 1999. The following summer Tess passed away, and Honey followed shortly after in September. Clearly the nips had been keeping the whole operation afloat. RIP Honey and Tess.