Every child should have one — the kind, elderly lady or gentleman who lives across the street or up the block from your folks' house and teaches you how to be a good neighbor.
Millions of people in the United States grew up with such a friend, someone from the same neighborhood but another generation; a special person who invited you and your playmates into their home for cold pop on a hot summer day or a glass of milk and a plate of home-baked cookies.
For the youngsters along West Lieber Street in Maryville 20 or 30 years ago, that person was Alice Tibbetts.
Tibbetts, who turned 98 this week, still lives in her little frame house on Lieber Street, and her eyes still sparkle with friendship and hospitality. And on Thursday afternoon a small group of "her" neighborhood kids dropped by to sing "Happy Birthday," pose for a few pictures, and tell Mrs. Tibbetts that they remembered.
Now grown, married women, the group obviously relished being back in the tiny house where a long-widowed woman living alone — as she still does — made their childhood selves feel welcome and at ease.
"What I remember are the cookies," said one.
"And the garden, Alice always had a big garden," recalled another.
The mom of one of those kids, Donna Carmichael, still lives on Lieber Street just down the block from Tibbetts' house. Standing beside her longtime neighbor, she marveled at her friend's small, neat handwriting, a sample of which she had just received on a greeting card.
Tibbetts said she spends a lot of time doing that, writing cards and letters to family and friends. But nearly a century after her birth on a Taylor County, Iowa, farm she still doesn't need glasses.
During her life, Tibbetts gave birth to nine children, three of whom have died. In the late 1950s she also buried her husband. It cannot have been an easy life.
But it was a good life, and it brought sunny, happy hours to a pack of neighborhood kids.
Never underestimate the power of cookies.