It may have been all the fairy tales I’d read as a kid, or maybe it’s just the nature of being a child, but everything new seemed magical to me when I was growing up.
I was raised in a suburban development on Long Island that was built on former potato fields. There were still farms on Hempstead Turnpike, the main road a couple of blocks away, and potato plants sprouted in our gardens every once in a while.
Every family on my block had a father who went out to work, a mother who stayed home, and 2 or more children.
And then, there was Miss Reynolds.
My next-door neighbor, Regina, was the one who told me about the unusual woman who lived at the end of the block.
“She’s really old,” Regina said. “She doesn’t have any children, and she has 4 dogs and 3 cats.”
I was shocked. Was Miss Reynolds a fairy godmother who’d wandered off the pages of one of my books? Old? No husband? No children? And all those animals!
Maybe it was a Catholic thing. (On my block, you were either Catholic or Jewish, and if there was something strange and extraordinary to me, I always figured it must be a Catholic thing.)
“Is she a witch?” I asked.
“No, she’s wonderful!” Regina said. “She loves when children visit her. She gives out candy and cupcakes and she’s home all the time.”
This Miss Reynolds had to be a tall tale. I followed Regina to the end of the block for proof.
Kindly and gray-haired, Miss Reynolds welcomed us in, beckoned us to sit on an ancient sofa, and introduced us to her pets.
“This is Queenie,” she said, pointing to a plump mutt with a sleek coppery coat. “And that’s Bunny.” Another mutt, with white fur, waddled over and sniffed my hand. I slumped to the floor beside them. I was in heaven.
True to Regina’s word, Miss Reynolds brought out a tray of cookies and candy, and tall glasses of icy water. Then she astonished me by announcing, “This is spring water, and it comes all the way from a natural stream in New England.”
I’d never heard of spring water. I’d never tasted such a cold drink, as the water I consumed always came out of a faucet. It had to be a fairy tale potion.
“Tell Candy how you got this water,” Regina prompted.
“My brothers brought it back from up the coast,” Miss Reynolds said with a twinkle in her eyes.
Another shock! Miss Reynolds lived with two brothers who also seemed to have no other family.
I sipped my drink and imagined the Reynolds brothers hiking to a stream with empty bottles strapped to their belts, kneeling on the rocks, and collecting the water as it ran down the mountain. I could taste the enchantment on my tongue.
I visited Miss Reynolds many times. It was a peaceful place where I could get away from the bustle of my own household of noisy sisters and two warring parents. I could sit on the carpet and pet Queenie and Bunny. They were the next best thing to having my own dog.
All the pets in that house were calm and gentle, lounging around the furniture and watching us with wise eyes.
Why did Miss Reynolds give away her cookies, candy and magic water, when we brought her nothing? I visited her to escape from all the children in my neighborhood. It never occurred to me that Miss Reynolds enjoyed the company of all those same children.
I don’t know what happened to Miss Reynolds, whether she moved away, or died in that house, or whether I just grew up and stopped visiting. I probably once knew, but have since forgotten.
I only know that Miss Reynolds lives on in the recesses of my mind, the fairy godmother with a warm smile, a soft voice, and plenty of time for little children.