Benjamin Olson and Mary O’Neill formed a friendship that helped them both get through the pandemic.
MINNEAPOLIS – Two houses separated by a fence.
In one, Benjamin Olson has just turned 2.
In the other, Mary O’Neill is just under 100 years old.
For more than a year, both found themselves trapped in the pandemic.
“A lot of us in this house,” says Sarah Olson, Benjamin’s mother. “He never really had any other friends.”
Meanwhile, Mary spent her days at home watching game shows and playing Yahtzee on a portable electronic game.
“I’m playing against myself,” says Mary.
That all changed when Mary and Benjamin got together.
“Hi Benjamin,” Mary says, smiling and waving, as her 2-year-old neighbor runs down the back steps.
She lifts her cane over the fence and pushes it away.
“There you go,” Mary says excitedly as Benjamin chases the ball to restart the game.
“We call it cane ball,” says Mary.
Stuck at home, Benjamin’s mother watched across the yard as the friendship blossomed.
“His first best friend,” Sarah says.
Benjamin is aiming his rocket through the fence.
Benjamin snaps his foot and rocket sales on the head with a laugh from Mary.
A few minutes later, Benjamin is blowing bubbles as Mary encourages him from across the fence.
“Bubbles, bubbles,” she said.
“Mary said she had these trucks for Benjamin,” Sarah says.
Before Sarah knew it, Mary had been out with a laundry basket full of old metal Tonka trucks.
“To my son,” says Mary. “He’s passed away, so they’ve been sitting in the basement for years and years.”
Mary also lost her husband 37 years ago.
Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whose photos adorn her walls, all live out of state.
But new photos of Benjamin and his little brother, Noah, now also take pride of place on Mary’s dining room table.
“They’re the closest thing to the grandchildren I have here,” says Mary.
And as the pandemic loosened its grip, Benjamin learned to open the door separating him from Mary.
Now he knows the grass is even greener when you can share a friendship on the same side of the fence.
“Oh my God, I’m going to get dirty,” Mary says as Benjamin walks up with closed fists.
“Thank you,” Mary says, as the dusty contents of Benjamin’s hands are transferred to hers.
“Oh, this is beautiful dirt,” she said to her 2 year old friend.
Days passed in the year when their classes remained empty.
“I missed them, I missed seeing them,” says Mary, “when it was too cold for them to go out, when it was raining”.
Listening nearby, Benjamin’s mom wipes away a tear.
“I never knew that,” Sarah says. “I’m so happy they met.”
When friendships are formed, powerful forces are designed. Look no further than Benjamin and Mary who built a bridge in 98 years.