“Blink the lights when you get there.”
That’s what I put on the card. For the flowers. For the funeral home. For my friend Florence (Flo), who passed away June 11.
She used to stand at her door after my visits to watch me return home, until I blinked my porch lights. This was not so much a safety precaution as a gesture of friendship — an affectionate tradition, one last way of saying “Good night.” Really, I only had to cross the street.
It was of course the same Overbrook street that Flo crossed — arm in arm with her husband Win — to welcome me to the neighborhood 16 years and 10 months ago.
Despite a 40-year difference in our ages (and the loudness and lateness of my move-in party the night before), they seemed genuinely pleased to meet me. And, it is not sugar-coated hindsight to tell you, I adored them immediately.
It’s rare, but liking some people is like that: easy and quick. And, rarer still, unchanging. I crossed that street many times over the years — to chat, to give out Halloween candy, to enjoy a home-cooked meal or a glass of lemonade. I crossed that street to borrow a cup of sugar. (I swear it’s true.) And I crossed that street to borrow a magic snow shovel. (I swear that’s true, too.)
When I crossed that street, more often than not, I came home with more than I’d arrived with, be it fresh-picked tomatoes, a cute scented candle, or a new wish on my part to have such a bright mind, such mischievous eyes, such a smile, such a positive attitude — or such a well-kept house! — when I am in my 90s.
I crossed that street to say goodbye to Win before he passed, four years ago. And I crossed that street on the Monday after Flo’s funeral to spend time with her family.
For the past few nights, as I’ve turned out the lights and walked through my house on the way to bed, I’ve lingered a moment at my dining room window (half hopeful, half cynical and wholly embarrassed to admit it) to see if any lights blinked on and off across the street.
No. They didn’t.
Last night again, I was standing at the window. It was midnight. There were no blinking lights inside the house across the street.
But, above that house? Well.
I saw a flash. And another. And another. It took me a moment to realize I was seeing lightning from a distant storm.
There wasn’t a sound. No thunder, no rain, no wind. The lightning wasn’t in jagged streaks and electric, sparking forks. It was within the clouds, lighting things up from the inside out.
This was not a typical storm. I’ve never seen anything like it. Like fluffy, monotone fireworks. Like fireflies in a jar of cotton balls. Like flickering street lamps lost in a swirling fog. Like flash bulbs going off underwater, snapping black-and-white photos of a wild and fantastical sea.
The sky had bright-as-day clouds billowing behind pitch-black silhouetted clouds. Appearing. Disappearing. Reappearing. On and off, again and again. And, just when you’d think it was over, again and again and again.
I stood there for an hour — jaw-dropped, teary-eyed, goofy-grinned and goose-bumped.
This was not lightning striking. This was lightning laughing. This was lightning dancing. This was a midnight party.
This was a celebration in the heavens.
Good-night, Flo. And thanks for everything.
Beth Schmidt of Overbrook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes “Local Dispatch” submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.