THE NEIGHBOR

This isn’t a friendly town. People fraternize with the people who attend their church and seem to regard anyone else as potentially hostile.

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Of course we didn’t know that when we moved here. We knew that it was a very white town, that Garry was likely to be the first (only) person of color, and I might well be the first (only?) Jew. In fact, apparently well-intentioned people said stuff like “Gee, I’ve never known a Jewish person before” and honestly didn’t see anything wrong with this. Meanwhile, Garry got stares. No way to know if they were staring because they’d seen him on TV or because he’s brown. Both?

Our situation was made even more complicated by our neighbor, Ned. A big guy. Rode a Harley. I love Harleys, but there are Harleys and then, there are Harleys. This one was chopped and really loud. When Ned started his bike, the vibration alone could knock me out of bed.

Ned was massive. Tattooed. He hung with a bunch of skin-head friends. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited, nor did these seem to be our kind of party.

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Ned flew a Confederate flag over his house. Prominently. We learned he’d always done this. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I think it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a more than a century ago. Time to get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t understand.

Our neighbor’s house was the only one in the Valley flying a confederate flag and we were the only mixed-race couple in town. Ironic, to say the least. And we were a poster couple for hate groups.

black jockey racist statue

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior (semper fi, and note I did not say “former Marine” because there’s no such thing as a former Marine). Moreover, he couldn’t have survived 40-years as a reporter without being tough.

One fine summer’s day, music screaming from Ned’s boombox, Garry looked at me and murmured those fighting words: “This is ridiculous!”

He marched down the driveway, through the woods that join our two houses, to Ned’s front door. Garry knocked. Loudly. When Ned finally answered, Garry said: “Hi. I’m your neighbor. Garry Armstrong. Do we have a problem?”

Shortly the flag disappeared along with a noxious black jockey statue. Turned out, Ned was a plumber. He fixed our bathroom pipes. The whole skinhead thing dissolved in the face of a brown-skinned guy who did news on Boston TV. Seemed it was less important who Ned was than who Ned, with a little encouragement, was willing to become.

Eventually Ned got into drugs. Or something. We were never sure what. His wife left. His life fell apart. One day, he vanished. Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.

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Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the year and half they have lived there, they’ve never bothered to say hello and I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking so much. Hard to argue with that. I wish they’d shut up too, but hey, they’ve got dogs who do their own share of barking. (There are a lot of dogs around here. If you are outside in the evening, you can always hear a dog barking somewhere.)

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and he always gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.



Categories: Anecdote, Friendship, Photography, Words

Tags: , , ,

46 replies

  1. I think I just moved back from that same exact town – only it was in OR, lol. Folks who have never lived in a small town think it might be a great place to raise their families, etc. But a small town can be just as bad as the city in all regards.

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    • It is a great town in a lot of ways and over the years. people have gotten a wee bit more sophisticated. But living in a small town in the country is living in a SMALL town. In the country. It has some great things about it, once of which is physical beauty and no traffic. The other is that it is very small and there aren’t a lot of interesting things to do, or shopping.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. People can be so dumb. Who in their right mind would say such a callous thing to you about “never met a Jew before.” Heck, I was dating a really nice guy who “some” people referred to as the “Jew”, as if he didn’t have a name, only a race. He proposed to me while I was still in high school, my Senior year, he was 6 yrs. older than me and in a good financial place. I wasn’t ready for marriage thoughj and my father would’ve shot both of us because, I’m ashamed to admit, my own parents were prejudiced – they never knew he was Jewish.

    My eldest son, retired Marine, married a “woman of color,” nobody gave them any kind of sh**. They aren’t together anymore though, she decided to divorce my son and go back to an old boyfriend, it was just as well, my son was her 3rd marriage/divorce.

    P.S. I loved this story, it’s just like an episode of something which might have been on Andy Griffith, well, maybe not, but, I loved the ending of this story and how Garry set things on the right path!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post and pix! Quite a neighborhood story. We’ve got a few ‘good’ ones too. HAVE A HAPPY! Hugs for you two. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bless both of your hearts. I hope your new neighbors pull their heads out of their asses someday, and realize life is short and people are the only thing in it that matter. As an aside, that controversial little statue, which is of a real man named Jocko Graves, was commissioned by George Washington to honor the man who froze to death loyally holding their horses as they crossed the Delaware, defeated the British and Hessians in a surprise attack, and turned the course of the Revolutionary War around. During the days of the Underground Railroad, “safe” houses would use the code of tying a ribbon around their Jocko Graves statues. How I wish everyone knew–and rallied around–the original nature of this misunderstood statue.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stunning photos. I know what it is to be the stranger in town. I lived in Austria for 11 years and was never accepted. It was worse when I was married when I lived in a small village where there was a lot of interbreeding. It was a huge relief when I left. Great photos by the way. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years … and there was a group of us, all native English-speakers who hung out together. But gradually, we all left, one at time … because when we said “home,” we knew we meant the U.S. and not Israel. Even people who had stayed there most of their lives went home at the end. Thanks, on the photos 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “Fortunately, he returned our extension ladder before going.” I liked this story quite a bit. Good for Garry. He is my hero.

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  7. What a great neighbor story! I would so love to meet you and Garry some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a standing invitation to anyone who might be in the area or lives near by enough to get here without a lot of hassle. I would love to meet you, too!

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      • Hopefully, my ship will come in sometime soon so I can visit all the places on my bucket list.

        And, of course, should you ever find yourself in the Western New York area, I’ll treat you to lunch or dinner.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Where in western New York? I’m hoping we get back to Cooperstown, which isn’t actually all that far from here. I grew up in NY (so did Garry), so I know it pretty well.

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          • I’m in Buffalo, NY, about 4 hours away if the Thruway is used. Depending on the time of year, and whether I can get Cordelia to go with me, I might be up for a road trip. Or maybe could meet you somewhere between Buffalo and Cooperstown. If you know when you might be taking that trip, send me an email (cordeliasmom2012@yahoo.com), but put something in the subject line so I know it’s you.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Will do!! We’ve been up that way a couple of times on the way to Canada, stopping at Niagara Falls. When the winter is over, we’ll start to think about travelling again and that’s a direction we haven’t taken in a while 🙂 But we shall have to wait until spring.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Oooo, you’ve made me very excited and given me something to look forward to. Cordelia is almost always up to join me on a road trip (short or long), especially when it’s my treat.

                Let’s try to firm up some plans for spring or summer.

                PS: I’m only about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls, and I know how to get there via the quick “scenic” route that avoids highways, and even avoids Grand Island. Archon can tell you all about my scenic routes. 🙂

                Liked by 2 people

            • I recently taped “Niagra” which I haven’t seen in a bit. Now, I’ll watch it for the Falls as well as MM.

              Liked by 1 person

  8. Recalling my childhood our neighborhood was a bit unique. One of the reasons for that was because my dad built all the houses, or most of them. I know we didn’t have any people of color on our block but I distinctly remember my dad getting into hot water over selling one of his “shells” to a black family a block over. The all white German town 2 miles away didn’t approve of that. My dad showed them where the front door was. One of the few couples who were friends of my folks happened to be jewish. They came by about 4 times a year for a visit. My parents went to friend’s home even fewer times, not for any particular reason other than they didn’t make friends. Our closest folks we had to friends were living across the street from us. I can’t even begin to spell their name. The father was a postal carrier and the mother a bartender at the local pub about a mile down the road. All the kids in the neighborhood played together. There wasn’t a lick of prejudice between kids. Shoot, it was too hard to find friends two miles from anywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I live in Richmond, VA. I moved here in 1986 to help my brother and I did not realize that the people here haven’t realized the war is over and they lost. Fortunately, the transplants are taking over so it is getting better. I dated a black man and we were refused help with paint in Lowe’s. The clerk didn’t realize he was dealing with a strong woman who had no problem walking across the store to get the manager. Hopefully he learned a lesson that day. We’ve come a long way; we’ve got a long way to go. I guess it’s one Ned at a time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • People like that never learn. May have learned to keep his mouth shut, but not to think differently. Bigots aren’t the way they are for any logical reason, so logic, reason, even practical consideration don’t affect them. Hatred is like a perverted religion.

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    • They still are frozen in time in parts of northern New England as I learned on our recent road trip. I’ll always be attuned to it. I joke but it’s not really funny.

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      • Frozen in time, frozen in attitude. They live in small towns and see cities as the root of all evil. But, to paraphrase Lamont Cranston, “Evil lives in the hearts of men” and he didn’t specify a geographic location.

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  10. Just shows that sometimes people have the potential to change, once they open up to it. You did Ned a favor by going over and meeting him and showing him what a flesh and blood Jew & person of color are. Sad ending for Ned though. Love the sunlight in the photo with the snow.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. it is very nic place to be…

    Like

  12. The world IS a strange place; it takes all kinds to make it.

    Liked by 1 person

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