The social distancing mandates, imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, isolated family members from each other in 2020. However, it also resulted in some lifelong friendships between people who would have otherwise never met. In the case of 99-year-old Minnesota resident Mary O'Neill, that person happens to be her two-year-old neighbor, Benjamin Olson.
The unlikely friendship began at the peak of the shutdown in May 2020. The lockdown was particularly hard for Mary, who has been living alone since her husband passed 37 years ago. Though she has two children, four grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, most live out of state. The 99-year-old spent her days watching television game shows and playing Yahtzee. Benjamin, a then one-year-old who lived next door, was also stuck at home and unable to play with kids his age.
The unusual friendship developed gradually. At first, Mary would wave at Benjamin from her window whenever she saw the young boy in the yard. Then, she began venturing outside to greet him in person. The routine eventually expanded to daily gatherings by the fence that separated the two homes. The unlikely pair even invented a socially distanced game that Mary calls "cane ball."
“I came out of the house one morning, and he threw his ball toward the fence,” she told the Washington Post. “I got my cane, and I reached over the fence and hit the ball toward him, and he’d throw it back. That’s how it started.”
When the weather turned, the two were unable to meet in the yard as regularly. But Benjamin's mother, Sarah, kept the friendship alive by frequently stopping by Mary's house with the bundled-up toddler.
The bond between the two has blossomed even further since Mary got vaccinated earlier this year. The two give each other hi-fives across the fence and often sit outside Mary's house, blowing bubbles. This spring, Mary gifted Benjamin with a colorful toy truck collection that had once belonged to her son. The young boy returned the favor with a gift of his own — a pile of dirt that he carefully carried in his small palm and dropped at her door.
Benjamin now goes to daycare three times a week. But he still makes time to visit his best friend — who he refers to as "Mimi" — regularly. "Friendship really knows no boundaries," Sarah told USA Today. "Certainly, you wouldn't guess that a 99-year-old and a 2-year-old would be friends, but they can be. And they both get a lot out of it."
Resources: Today.com, DailyMail.co.uk, CNN.com