As everyone was forced to hunker inside due to the pandemic, a bright spot glimmered in one neighborhood in Minneapolis.
Two houses are separated by a low wire fence.
High enough for a kid, but low enough for a grown-up to lean into the other side.
On one side, someone was using a cane to walk. On the other side, a boy had just learned how to walk. On one side, someone will be turning a hundred years old as the year ends. On the other, a little boy had just turned two.
While they’re both separated by generations, these two souls nevertheless formed a bond that went beyond the fence that separated them.
Sarah Olson, Benjamin’s mom, shared with CBS:
“Benjamin just turned 2 years old, we’ve been neighbors with Mary long before he was born,”
She described Mary O’Neill as an independent woman.
They barely saw her outside back then, but when the pandemic hit and their worlds were reduced to their backyards, the Olson began seeing Mary more.
Benjamin, who sometimes wobbles after just learning how to walk, would shuffle towards the fence to greet Mary. The first game they played was “cane ball”. Benjamin would carry a big ball to the fence where Mary could reach over the fence and “kick” the ball using her cane.
Back then, O’Neill, who lost her husband 37 years ago, would interact with Benjamin from a distance.
She’d give a wave or a smile from behind the window. Then, after venturing outside to say hello, the two of them became inseparable.
“Sometimes he’ll get up and grab a piece of sand or a rock and give it to me as a gift,” O’Neill shared with TODAY. “He makes me feel good.”
O’Neill became isolated when the pandemic hit. She had been alone, playing Yahtzee all by herself. But now, her childlike spirit came alive. They’d play bubbles, water guns, and the vintage toy trucks she bequeathed Benjamin.
While Benjamin’s best friend couldn’t keep up with him as much, the little boy is still happy to have her as a friend.
“She’s just Mary, or in the past couple of days, he’s been calling her ‘Mimi,’” Olson told CBS. “We’ll be playing inside and he’ll go, ‘Mimi? Mimi?’ and we’ll go outside and look for Mimi.”
And for O’Neill, Benjamin and his little brother meant a lot to her too.
Her house was adorned with photos of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren – but with two tiny additions into those places of honor.
“Friendship can just happen so many different ways, I’m just really happy they were able to form this friendship – quarantine or not, pandemic or not,” Olson shared with CBS. “I’m happy they formed this friendship because it means a lot to her and it means a lot to him too.”
Now that pandemic restrictions have eased, Benjamin’s fence door unlocks and the little boy, finally, crosses to the other side of the fence. He sat down with his best friend like two old buddies reuniting after a long while.
But both of them will always remember that while their fence once kept them apart, it also became a place where they got together.