Marie uses a cane. Benjamin recently learned to walk. Mary is 99 years old. Benjamin is 2 years old. Neighbors may seem unlikely friends, but during the pandemic, they formed a unique bond at the fence between their homes in Minneapolis.
“Benjamin just turned 2, we were neighbors with Mary long before she was born,” said Benjamin’s mother Sarah Olson. They haven’t seen 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 began to play more in their backyard and Mary is said to be in hers. As Benjamin grew over the year, learning to walk and talk, he began to play more with Mary.
“He would run to Mary when he saw her in the yard and he would bring her a ball,” Olson said. “And she made this game that we call Ping Ball, where Benjamin brings her a ball and Mary reaches her cane over our fence, turns it over and kicks Benjamin back and forth.”
There is a 97-year age gap, but Ben doesn’t see it.
“It’s just Mary, or for the last couple of days he called her ‘Mimi’,” Olson said. “We’ll play inside and he’ll say, ‘Mimi? Mimi?’ and we’ll go outside and get Mimi. “
“She’s going to scream, ‘Hey Benjamin!’ when she sees him, and it was so cute to watch him, ”she said.
For Mary, who was isolated on her own during the pandemic, a friend was just what she needed. “We learned how excited she was to see him play in the backyard and how Benjamin kind of held her down during the pandemic when she couldn’t see anyone else,” Olson said.
It seems Mary has regained a childlike spirit with Benjamin, playing with bubbles and even water guns. She has a granddaughter, who is already an adult, and she has said that Benjamin is the closest thing to the grandchildren or great-grandchildren that she currently has, Olson said.
Over a year after starting to play together, Benjamin and Mary still enjoy each other’s company.
Olson said she thinks her son and neighbor’s friendship resonates with so many people because people love to see relationships formed so naturally for young and old. “We didn’t have to work on it at all, it just happened naturally,” she said.
“Friendship can happen in so many different ways, I’m just really happy that they were able to form this friendship – quarantine or not, pandemic or not,” she said. “I’m happy that they formed this friendship because it means a lot to her and it means a lot to him too.”