Mary uses a cane. Benjamin recently learned how to walk. Mary is 99. Benjamin is 2. The neighbors may seem like unlikely friends, but during the pandemic, they formed a unique bond at the fence between their houses in Minneapolis.
"Benjamin just turned 2 years old, we've been neighbors with Mary long before he was born," Benjamin's mom, Sarah Olson said. They didn't see Mary much, but last year when the pandemic hit and the family had to stay home, Mary was someone they could see — outside.
During the pandemic, the Olsons started playing in their yard more, and Mary would be in hers. As Benjamin grew over the year, learning to walk and talk, he started to play with Mary more.
"He would run over to Mary when he would see her in the yard and he would bring her a ball," Olson said. "And she created this game that we call Ping Ball, where Benjamin brings her a ball and Mary reaches her cane over our fence, flips it over and kind of kicks it to Benjamin back and forth."
There's a 97-year age gap, but Ben doesn't see it.
"She's just Mary, or in the past couple of days, he's been calling her 'Mimi,'" Olson said. "We'll be playing inside and he'll go, 'Mimi? Mimi?' and we'll go outside and look for Mimi."
"She'll call out, 'Hey Benjamin!' when she sees him, and it's just been so cute to watch it," she said.
For Mary, who was isolated alone during the pandemic, a friend was just what she needed. "We learned how much she looked forward to seeing him playing in the yard and how Benjamin kind of kept her going in the pandemic when she wasn't able to see anyone else," Olson said.
It seems Mary has rediscovered a childlike spirit with Benjamin, playing with bubbles and even water guns. She has one granddaughter, who is already an adult, and she said Benjamin is the closest thing to grandkids or great-grandkids she has right now, Olson said.
More than a year after they first started playing together, Benjamin and Mary still enjoy each other's company.
Olson said she thinks her son and neighbor's friendship resonates with so many because people like to see relationships form so naturally for young people and elderly people. "We didn't have to work on it at all, it just happened really naturally," she said.
"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," she said. "I'm happy they formed this friendship because it means a lot to her and it means a lot to him too."
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