elderly woman looking out a window

Mom chokes up at gift 2-year-old son has for a 100-year-old neighbor

The pandemic was strong enough to bring the world to a veritable standstill. But for 2-year-old Benjamin Olsen and 100-year-old Mary O’Neill, it was the reason behind an unusual and adorable friendship. And yes, it is a friendship with a 98 year age gap! [1]

The son and Mary enjoying a hi-five
Image credits: Chad Nelson | KARE 11

Mary and Benjamin are neighbors in Minneapolis. Benjamin also has a younger brother, whose name is Noah. With the lockdowns and restrictions in place due to the pandemic, Mary and Benjamin’s family could not leave their homes for almost the entire year. That’s when the two struck an unlikely friendship.


The Friendship Is Special For Both Of Them

According to Benjamin’s mother, Sarah Olsen, Mary is Benjamin’s first-ever best friend. Sarah explained that Benjamin could not see any other children his age for over a year. Sarah says:


He didn’t interact with anyone except our family and Mary. They ended up forming an incredibly strong bond.

Mary used to spend her time watching game shows on TV, or playing Yahtzee on her portable device. Mary said that she just played against herself. Mary has been a widow for almost four decades now. Her son has passed away, and none of her grandchildren live in the state.

But, then, the two met. At first, she would wave hello to the tiny toddler through the window of her house. Then, she started walking outside and greeting Benjamin in person. The two properties were separated by a thin chain fence. So the physical interaction between the two was limited to greetings and passing things over.


A Little Fun and Games

The friendship only grew stronger with time. After some time, Mary and Benjamin made their own unique game known as “cane ball”. The premise is simple: Benjamin would bring over his ball to Mary, and then Mary would use her cane to hit it.

The two playing 'cane ball'
Image credits: Chad Nelson | KARE 11

As simple as the game may be, it was the most exciting thing to do for the two. In an interview with Today[2], O’Neill explains:


Benjamin keeps me company.”

Some days later, Mary somehow hauled over a laundry basket to give to the child. It had old colorful Tonka trucks made from metal. Mary says:


My son’s. He passed away, so they’ve been sitting down in the basement for years and years.

Sarah could not figure out how the elderly woman managed to carry it that far, and it was all for her son. She said:


Mary carried this big laundry basket filled with heavy trucks up from her basement. I have no idea how she did it. But she carried out those trucks, no problem.

Sarah says that the trucks helped Benjamin learn about colors.

Read: 2-Yr-Old Uses Positive Affirmations To Calm Down And It’s Just Plain Adorable.


The Daily Life Of The Two

The friends’ day starts at about 10 AM. They spend a couple of hours only interacting and hanging out with each other. Sometimes, Benjamin would sit by Mary on her porch, blowing bubbles and giggling.

The son and Mary sitting together
Image Credits: Sarah Olson

By now, the pandemic has somewhat eased. So they can go to each other’s yards through a small gate in the fence. Benjamin has even learned how to open and close the gate by himself. So he visits Mary now and then to give her a handful of dirt. Mary accepts the gift with as much appreciation as she can muster.

Interestingly enough, a 98-year age gap does not make it difficult for the two to converse. Mary finds Benjamin to be very understanding. Mary explains:

He doesn’t talk much, but he sure knows what you’re talking about. He is friendly with me, and I’m friendly with him.

Today, along with pictures of Mary’s 2 children, 4 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren, two other kids feature on her picture wall: Benjamin and Noah.

Read: Jimmy Carter, 96, Gushes About Wife Rosalynn, 93, Ahead Of 75th Wedding Anniversary Celebration

Like a Son

Mary has grown to enjoy Benjamin’s company so much that she misses the toddler when he can’t go outside because of the weather. Sarah knows Mary as a fiercely independent person. But the specialty of the friendship was enough to make Sarah tear up:

Mary is fiercely independent. She doesn’t really show her cards. So I got really emotional when I heard her say that she missed Benjamin on the days when it was too cold or rainy to go outside.

The two even celebrated Mary’s 100 birthday in December.[3] The news coverage was a favorite for the readers. During the event, Benjamin got to meet Mary’s family who was just as excited to meet the little guy. They also received 300 birthday cards – one from Germany and others from 21 states. As for an update, Benjamin calls Mary “Mimi” now, a name he coined himself. Take a look at the touching story:

Mary O’Neill’s life has been long and filled with tons of experiences. But toddler Benjamin may just be Mary’s favorite experience yet. The story just goes to show how two people at the exact opposite points in their life can give so much to each other. 

Keep Reading: Mother and child reunion: They had looked for each other for decades. A DNA test reconnected them.


  1. Washington Post
  2. Pandemic leads to unlikely friendship between toddler and 99-year-old neighbor.” Today. Rachel Paula Abrahamson. July 20, 2021.
  3. ‘He was very excited’: 2-year-old helps best friend celebrate her 100th birthday.” Today. Kait Hanson. August 24, 2021.
Mayukh Saha
Freelance Writer
Mayukh is a Content Marketer and Social Media Manager with over 5 years of experience in the industry. Mayukh believes in the power of content; how it can positively impact lives, scale businesses and touch people. In his spare time Mayukh likes to read about latest tech trends and loves to travel in the nature. You can reach him at [email protected]