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Not everyone needs to marry to find contentment

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Agatha Christie 
She never married. We were neighbors, which is how I met her.

I was a Boy Scout who had come to mow her lawn. Looking at me she decided I'd be more help in the kitchen, so she gave me an apron, a wooden spoon and a job to do.

Already middle aged by the time I came on the scene, she had settled into a life that was breakfast and lunch and dinner and what she called a good murder after the news. She liked Agatha Christie and Colombo, but she thought Kojak was a little full of himself and too crude.

Sometimes, standing at her front door, I would hear music coming from inside the house. It was olden days stuff that I didn't like at first.

She was cardigans and tweed and a hint of lavender. Her kitchen was immaculate as a church.

When I called she always had a task for me -- core these apples or grind this coffee or stir that pot. She set about most things with marvellous concentration. I was in awe of her because it seemed like there was nothing she could not do.

There were books everywhere, but all in order. She put fresh flowers in vases and their scent would fill the rooms.

What I remember most was how quiet it it was in her house at all hours. I liked that contrast from my own home very much.

Self possessed but indulgent when she wanted to be, she had mystery and not many people do. At home, when it became clear where I was going on certain evenings there were some words exchanged, but on balance it was decided not to intervene.

I picked all this up without mentioning it to her. Some people were cautious of her, but not me.

I heard opera in her kitchen for the first time. When she was sure of me she made grand gestures and died elongated deaths. Pretty soon I was doing the same thing too.

I discovered there were many types of chocolate in her kitchen, not just the stuff the other kids ate in two bites. She knew how to bake and broil and boil and stir fry; this was heady stuff in Donegal just at that time.

At home I didn't eat much but in her kitchen I was ravenous. It was a different world. It smelled different to me too.

She often gave me dishes to take home in tupperware, home made soups and stews and ratatouille and fresh baked breads. These were usually received with elborate retching.

They were not appreciated. They could not identify what was in them. They were judged no good.

Local kids would warn me to avoid her house because a witch lived in it. At night she sometimes had trouble from the older ones. They'd throw pebbles on her roof to draw her out.

The light would come on and her front door would open. She'd see an empty street and a huge sky full of stars.

They weren't bad kids she told me, but they picked on her. It was because there was no man in the house. It was just an opportunity, and that was that.

When her father was alive there was none of that nonsense, but he'd passed on and her mother followed the same year. She was young when she had inherited the house and the shop but she had no head for it, so she sold up and lived modestly on her own.

In public she was reserved and a bit forbidding, but in her kitchen she'd toss flour over my head. I liked that contrast, I liked that I knew her better, I liked that I could make her smile when I wanted to.

When I heard relatives speak about her it was almost always to express their pity. It was such a shame, she had so much to offer, but no one called.

To be happy on your own was inconceivable. A woman needed a man about the place. It was unnatural to live like that, and they said so.

Day after day baking bread and boiling bouillabaisse and listening to opera. What a lonely life, what a sorry fate, the poor thing.

But I never met a more collected soul, or a more content one. So I didn't know what they were talking about then, and I still don't.

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