Rita Coburn Whack: Memories of a quirky neighbor | WBEZ
Skip to main content

Eight Forty-Eight

For writer Rita Coburn Whack the rain brings memories of a quirky neighbor

It is spring but in true Chicago style the warm weather keeps coming in fits and starts. But those April showers are on track! For writer Rita Coburn Whack, the rain always brings back memories of an old neighbor. As a child Coburn-Whack thought the neighbor was strange. But now her behavior doesn’t appear quite so crazy.

My sister and I considered one of our childhood nemesis, our next door neighbor whom we called Old Biddy Hen. Even I knew at 9 years old, that having someone watching you from one driveway away, was nerve wrecking. “Late to school, late to school,” she would say when I was in fact, late to school. Lord. Old Biddy was quirky too. Once, we over heard her in our kitchen complaining about a ticket she had gotten for running a red light. “It was orange, it was orange,” she yelled to my mother. My father walked from the kitchen down the hall mumbling a couple of expletives. My sister and I quietly laughed ourselves limp.

Whenever it would rain, Old Biddy would don a rain scarf, the kind they give you at the beauty shop, clear plastic with white trim and a sort of hood that comes over the forehead. There she’d be outside with a bottle of dishwashing liquid and a rag, scrubbing her car.  She’d wait for the rain to administer a rinse and then return to dry her car. This too irritated my father and sent him realing…string of expletives to follow. So, whenever it rained, we’d check to see when the homemade car wash would open, then make an announcement and listen to my father’s color commentary.

For some odd reason this story was with me recently as the winter weather offered temperatures in the low 50s and a rainy reprieve. So for no reason that I can think of, other than, I am older now, probably as old as Biddy Hen was then - I drove my well-soaked snow and salt covered car into the garage and soaped it down. My plan was to take it back into the rain…Old Biddy style. But when I raised the garage door, the rain was barely a drizzle. I had no choice but to hose my car down, pull it back into the garage and dry it with towels.

Perhaps I too am becoming a bit of a Biddy. Later, my husband came home and exclaimed with a quizzical look on his face. “It rained and you finally got a car wash?” I decided against telling him the whole story, but I thought about it, at least twice.

Music Button: Eric Cunningham, "Goofy A-Go-Go", from the CD Kitschorama, (Swell Records)

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.