Her friendship with 2-year-old Benjamin Olson has given 99-year-old Mary O’Neill the strength to live through the lockdown without meeting her family.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on July 30, 2021. It has since been updated.
The coronavirus pandemic and its subsequent lockdown has been quite hard on everyone. But even during this distressing situation, we have learned to adapt and even make the most of it. As for a young boy and an elderly woman in Minneapolis, they have forged a beautiful neighborly bond during this phase.
99-year-old Mary O’Neill has an adult daughter who lives in the area and makes it a point to visit her at least once every week. But the rest of O’Neill’s relatives are scattered and due to the pandemic, they haven't been able to meet her, leaving the soon-to-be centenarian in seclusion.
Thankfully she found a little friend just next door where the Olson family lives. It's their 2-year-old Benjamin Olson. For quite some time now, Mary has been watching the child grow through the chain-link fence that separates their properties. She saw Benjamin as he learned to walk, talk, and finally when he began running and playing.
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. https://t.co/15wILHMTzt— WJZ | CBS Baltimore (@wjz) July 22, 2021
"Benjamin just turned 2 years old, we've been neighbors with Mary long before he was born," said Benjamin's mother Sarah Olson, adding that they haven't seen Mary that much but when the pandemic hit and they were forced to stay at home, they saw her outside frequently. As Benjamin began playing in the yard more often, the elderly lady too would come outside. Eventually, they began interacting and playing with each other.
Despite having a huge 97-year-old age gap between them, the two became friends and even developed a gamed which allowed them to play over the fence. While Benjamin would pass her a ball, she would use her cane to hit it back at him. "He would run over to Mary when he would see her in the yard and he would bring her a ball," Sarah told CBS News. "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."
For the child, O'Neill is his dear friend who he loves meeting and playing with. The age difference doesn't bother him at all. "She’s just Mary, or in the past couple of days, he’s been calling her 'Mimi.' We’ll be playing inside and he’ll go, 'Mimi? Mimi?' and we’ll go outside and look for [her]," she added. "She’ll call out, 'Hey Benjamin!' when she sees him, and it’s just been so cute to watch it."
Apart from the adorableness of their relationship, their bond has really helped Mary stay strong during the pandemic isolation. Without anyone at home, she needed a friend and found that in baby Benjamin. "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," revealed Sarah.
Interacting with Benjamin has helped Mary express her childlike spirit as she would often play with bubbles and even water guns with him. Per the outlet, O'Neill has one granddaughter and she is already an adult. So for her Benjamin is the closest thing she has to a grandkid or great-grandkid at the moment. It's been over a year since the two began playing together and they still love spending time in each other's company. When she celebrates her 100th birthday in August, the Olson family hopes to be there with her to help blow out the candles, reports the Good News Network.
The pair's friendship has touched people everywhere and Sarah thinks it could be because their bond formed so naturally. "We didn't have to work on it at all, it just happened really naturally," she noted. "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. I'm happy they formed this friendship because it means a lot to her and it means a lot to him too."
Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | KARE 11