by Laura Sosnowski
We knew her only as Mrs. Oren. She lived down the block from us, and had her own husband and two children to take care of.
We were four kids living in a lower-middle-class town in Indiana with our parents. I was 14 and my youngest sister was 4 when our mother died suddenly. All the neighbors took turns bringing us casseroles for a while, but only Mrs. Oren stayed by our side for as long as I can remember.
She didn’t bother with me much; I was already an “independent” teenager. But she took care of our youngest sister every day while the rest of us were at school and our dad was at work.
Every Christmas our tree was filled with gifts “from Santa”, but actually from Mrs. Oren. She spent the year visiting garage sales, with us and the holiday season in mind.
I thought I could take care of most things. Shopping and cooking and laundry, and putting kids to bed and cutting their hair. My morning routine on school days included getting up with the alarm clock (dad was long gone to work), showering, then waking up the “kids” to get them ready for school.
One morning something was wrong. I don’t know what miracle got me out of bed, but I felt extra tired and dizzy. I couldn’t seem to do anything. I went to eat breakfast before showering because I just didn’t feel right. The next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor in the kitchen, with the world spinning around me. I was moaning uncontrollably.
I just lay there a while waiting to feel better… but I didn’t get better. Pretty soon I heard my younger two sisters crying and throwing up. I yelled, or crawled, or something, to wake my third sister, Donna. I yelled to her, “Call Mrs. Oren! Tell her everybody’s sick!”
Donna called our dad instead. He called Mrs. Oren. Before we knew what was happening, we were all in her car in our pajamas, with bowls on our laps to throw up in, on our way to the hospital. Something had gone wrong with our furnace and we were all being poisoned with gas fumes.
What would have happened to us if it was not for a caring, unselfish neighbor who kept an eye on us every day? Who was willing to drop everything, including her own family matters early that morning?
That was when I was 14. I am now 50. I don’t know where Mrs. Oren is or if she’s well. But I hope this story, and our gratitude, will find her. It’s been a long time coming: “Thank you again, Mrs. Oren”.