THE COMMUNITY EVENT – Rich Paschall

Do You Have The Time? by Rich Paschall

There are plenty of community organizations that will grab your time, if only you let them. They want you for a variety of tasks and the really organized organizers will stalk you if they think you will volunteer for something. They want you to stuff envelopes, sell tickets, make phone calls, sit at booths and sell things. They will have you directing traffic, ushering people, handing out programs. You can go to meetings, answer email, talk on the phone, spend hours of your precious time in pursuit of the organizational mission, whatever that might be.

But what if you do not have the time for this? After all, if you are part of a family crew, you may have to drive little Johnny or Suzy to soccer practice, karate lessons, football practice, baseball practice, cheerleading practice, dance class, piano lessons, drum and bugle corps, or basketball games. If they are young, it is pre-school or grade school or daycare or after school care. If they are older it is still sports, music, dances, proms, band, drama, speech and please, drop them at the corner so no one knows their mommy is still driving them around.

Of course, there are all the adult requirements too.  There are weddings and showers, wakes, and funerals. As we get older, there are more of the latter. There are dances and parties we don’t want to attend and family events for which you must make your famous __________ (insert dish name here). It all keeps us so very busy. How dare these “organizers” presume to prevail upon our valuable time?

Yet, these various events to which you are driving the beloved little ones (or not-so-little ones) are probably staffed by volunteers. Adults and a handful of older kids are taking tickets, selling refreshments, selling t-shirts, directing people around events. They are running for ice, and pop and cups and napkins. They are getting mustard and ketchup. They are making emergency runs to Costco or Sam’s Club so they do not run out of water or buns or napkins. In other words, they are making everything possible that you and little Johnny and Suzy are attending.

As a staff member at a community organization for a few years, and for a private school a few others, I know what it is like to have to run events, dependent on volunteers who may or may not show up. Fortunately, most are dedicated and in their places when the time comes.

Yes, that's me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

Yes, that’s me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

While some organizations pressure the parents of the children who participate to volunteer, many others are reliant on the goodwill of neighbors and friends.  Though many do not realize it, the events they attend throughout the year might not be there if there were no volunteers. In fact, some community organizations die for lack of volunteer spirit. A founder of one community organization here said many decades after the organization he began was up and running, that perhaps it should die if the community was not willing to come forward and support it. They, in fact, gave up some large events for lack of volunteers.

Here I could give you the “social contract” type speech. You know the one.  If you are part of the community, you must give up something in order to reap the benefits of community activities. That something you must give up is your time. I know that is hard to do in this day and age. After all, we must get home to check our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We must look at Instagram and Snapchat. We must check Messenger and Skype. Then there is Pinterest and YouTube, Vimeo and Vevo.

What enriches our lives is what we invest in. If we invest in our community and its events, then we are richer too. The volunteer spirit does not necessarily lead to dull and boring jobs. Instead, it can lead to knowing your neighbors. You could be learning about the organization to which you and your children participate. It can open new avenues to friendship in the community in which you live. It can give you an understanding of what it takes to make a community.

Hillary Clinton famously said “It Takes A Village,” from the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child.

In fact, it takes a community, a good community, to raise a child. The only way a community can be good and strong is with the volunteer spirit of its residents. Are you going to give up an occasional Saturday at some event or sports bar to aid your community, or will you just let someone else do it? If you choose the latter, then I remind you of the philanthropist who suggested that it might be better to let a community organization die, if the community was unwilling to support it.

MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

If you have been stopping by this space for a while you may recall a series of stories about Harold, the retired planner from the Midwest.  He tried to organize all of his time with care, but life had a way of throwing up little distractions along the way. Then came something he did not plan, a major detour.  Links to the original stories follow this unexpected event:

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood

The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.

“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?”

Finally, the woman without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears Friday.

Related:  The first series of “Harold stories” in order: Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday,” “A Library Lesson,” “Harold and the Tiny Wizard,” “At The Old Ballgame,  The Saturday Schedule. Click on any title to jump to that story.

GET A LAWN, MR. WILKINS – Rich Paschall

The Green, Green Grass, by Rich Paschall

Rusty liked to get out and walk around the neighborhood.  It was a pleasant community with quaint old houses.  In fact, some of the houses were over one hundred years old, as were the trees planted in front of them.  Many homes were kept in fine condition by their owners, while others showed the sad effects of the many years they had been standing.  Rusty always spotted something new or different to enjoy during his walks.  One thing he could usually count on, as he strolled down Wallace Street on a weekend, was the presence of one particular old timer tending to his yard.

“Good morning, Mr. Wilkins,” Rusty exclaimed as he came upon the old house with a grand porch and nice lawn.  “The grass is looking very good this Spring.”

“Thanks, my friend,” Mr. Wilkins replied.  Everyone Mr. Wilkins addressed was “my friend” or “neighbor” or perhaps “sir” or “ma’am.”  Mr. Wilkins was very bad at remembering names no matter how often he heard them.  He was usually just fixated on the care of the old house and his beautiful lawn.

“I must say, Mr. Wilkins, I am surprised you are still at it. I thought you mentioned a dozen years ago that you would give this all up and retire to a warmer climate where there would be no lawn care.”

That is exactly what Mr. Wilkins had said.  He told many people that.  He wanted to retire to a nice area where a lawn service would take care of all the outside surroundings.  He wanted to relax in his old age and pursue his favorite hobbies.  He wanted to read more books, watch more sports and visit more museums and art galleries.  In his mind, he could envision a life different from the one he had for many years.  Nevertheless, he was still active in the same tasks that had now filled decades of his life.

“Yes, that was my plan, but as I approached retirement age I found I could not retire.  There just is not enough money there if I should live a long life.  I guess I will have to work as long as I can, then hope for the best.  I don’t think I will ever leave here.”

“Well, I guess I am sorry to hear it Mr. Wilkins, but you should feel good about this grand old house.  I believe your hard work had paid off. You have a lovely yard and a beautiful porch from which to admire it.”

“Thank you, neighbor,” Mr. Wilkins responded with a tone of true gratitude.  Complements on the lawn were always well received.  “There are some in the neighborhood with perfect lawns.  They have thick green grass and not a weed in sight.  I often wonder how they do it.  I hope I have such a lawn before my time is up.”

“This looks like the year of the perfect lawn, Mr Wilkins.  Now don’t work too hard.  This is the time to enjoy life.  Have a nice day.”  Rusty was off on his neighborhood journey.

Mr. Wilkins spent the Spring and early summer in pursuit of his favorite hobby, the lawn and garden.  His grass got the spring “weed and feed.”  He had tried various products over the years in search of the one with the best result.  A few bare spots got extra attention as Mr. Wilkins got down to loosen the dirt and then sprinkle his favorite grass seed.

Mother Nature cooperated with Mr. Wilkins like she had never done before.  The rain held off when certain products needed to be applied in dry weather.  The showers came when the seeds needed it and the grass required moisture.  Everything was coming along as Mr. Wilkins had always dreamed.

One day in early summer, Rusty was wondering down Wallace Street during his usual walk around the neighborhood.  “Good morning, Mr. Wilkins.  How are you this morning?”

“I am doing quite well,” the old-timer lied.  “How are you?”

Mr. Wilkins was tired, very tired.  He was pushing himself to do the things that came easy in past years.  He desperately wanted to do all the chores he felt were necessary to have a fine lawn and beautiful porch.  The work did not come without great effort.

“I am enjoying my walk past the many nice homes,” Rusty explained. “I must compliment you on the nice flowers and exceptional lawn. I think this is not only your best one yet, but perhaps the best one in the neighborhood. I should know. I have seen them all”

At that, Mr. Wilkins perked up. There were no better words for him than the ones expressed by his kind neighbor.

“Thank you so much, my friend. I am so happy to hear it,” Mr. Wilkins stated with a great deal of pride. “I believe the weather has been a big help this year.”

“I am sure your hard work had everything to do with it. Well, enjoy your fine yard and don’t work too hard anymore.” At that, Rusty wandered away and left Mr. Wilkins beaming with pride.

With complete satisfaction at his front lawn and neat row of flowers, Mr. Wilkins gathered up his gardening tools and headed back behind the house. There he set down his garden implements and just admired the lawn.

Related image

The green, green grass of home

“After all these years,” he said to himself, “I finally have a beautiful lawn. I wonder what brought it to me this year.”

As the sun was warm and the lawn was lush and inviting, Mr. Wilkins decided to lie down on the green, green grass where he drifted off peacefully.

No one found him until the next day.

DUKE THE DOG

I haven’ t been getting out much since winter began. I can’t get it together with stomping through snow, or rain, or mud. I’ve gone to the doctor with Garry and the grocery store a few times. I’ve even gone out on the balcony and shot a few pictures there.

But mostly, I’ve been in the house. Reading — or more accurately, listening. Except I’m also reading (text reading) too.

The Duke

In between, when my dogs do something particularly cute, I grab a camera and take a few pictures. 

I was watching The Duke standing on top of the sofa, watching outside. The neighbors must have been outside. Whenever they emerge, he goes completely wacko. Anyone would think they’d done something bad to him! He tries to fling himself through the dining room French doors by knocking down the gate.

CRASH, BANG, BARK, BARK, GROWL, BARK.

Then he races to the living room, stands on the top of the sofa and growls. Barks. And finally, stands in front of us and whimpers. He really has a spite on those people. You’d think they did something bad to him, wouldn’t you?

Sometimes, he just likes to stand watch on the back of the sofa. He likes the height. It gives him a great view of the neighbors driveway.

GROWL, BARK, BARK, WHIMPER, GROWL.

(Race to dining room,)

CRASH, BANG, GROWL, BARK.

(Race to living room.)

(Leap to sofa.)

GROWL, BARK, BARK, BARK.

“Duke, chill. Good grief, calm down!”

WHIMPER.

“Duke, it’s the neighbors. They live there. They aren’t going to leave no matter how much you bark. Calm down! Garry, did you give him his Prozac?”

I took some pictures. As soon as he saw me with the camera, he decided he needed to get really close to the lens. If I try to back off, he’ll just move up on me, so I do the best I can. 

Duke is a pretty good subject, though. Unlike Bonnie and Gibbs, he has enough white in his coat to reflect light and be visible, even if the room isn’t very bright.

He is a good boy. Total wacko, of course. 

COME MONDAY, IT WILL BE ALRIGHT – RICH PASCHALL

Not just another day in the Life of Harold by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Upon awakening Harold went immediately to the window to check the weather.  He was instantly aware that it was grayer than normal for that time of day. He needed to decide on his schedule for the morning.

There was no putting off decisions until later.  His orderly life demanded plans be set and executed precisely. Since rain was falling, Harold knew that he’d follow breakfast and some newspaper reading with a trip to town for some shopping. His lists were made; he was ready to go.

When it was almost 9 am, Harold grabbed his lists, a light jacket and umbrella and headed for the back door to the garage. Just as he was about to grab the door knob he was startled by the telephone ringing. He could not imagine who in the world might be calling him. There were no friends or relatives to call. There were no appointments scheduled for someone to needlessly remind him of attending. He figured it might be a telemarketer and while such calls were a total waste of time to Harold, he decided to make sure that is who it was.

“Hello,” Harold said tentatively as if he was not sure anyone would actually be on the line.  “This is Harold.”  He automatically announced his name as it was an ingrained practice from his many years on the job.

“Hello Harold,” a cheery voice responded. “This is your neighbor, Bill. You know, the guy down the street.”

When Harold had first moved to the Florida community, Bill had come by and introduced himself. Harold had stood on the walkway watching his goods being unloaded by the movers. Bill offered to help anytime Harold needed it and suggested they exchanged numbers in case of emergency.

“Us old guys have to look out for each other,” Bill declared.

So Harold exchanged numbers with Bill though he thought it was most unlikely they would ever use the numbers.

“Oh,” Harold said hesitantly, “I was just on the way out to the store.”

“I recall you said Monday was for shopping and I thought we could go together and then you don’t have to drive,” Bill replied.

75-MiniMallPoster-CR-12

“I see, but I really need to go now as I have a schedule to keep today.”  Harold had a schedule to keep everyday. It was the only way he could maintain contentment in his life –and contentment was everything.

“That’s OK,” Bill told Harold in a continued bright and sunny tone which bubbled over despite the unpleasant weather, “I’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

Harold had no idea how to respond to that. It was so rare for anything to impose itself on the master scheduler’s day. “I guess,” Harold said with surprise in his voice, “But I’m really ready to go now.”

“No problem,” came the reply and Bill hung up the phone. If anyone had been present, they’d have seen a remarkable look of surprise on the face of a man who never did anything spontaneously, even when it fit perfectly into his rigid schedule.

In less than 10 minutes, Bill was in Harold’s driveway giving a quick blast on the horn of his brown Chevy Malibu.  Harold emerged from the side door and moved toward Bill’s car as the light rain fell.  “Where to?” Bill asked.

“I normally go to the Publix, but if you don’t want to go…”

“The Publix it is,” Bill said, cutting off Harold’s attempt to back out. At that Bill proceeded to talk his way to the Publix parking lot. He told Bill all about his first marriage, which ended after a few stormy years. Then he told of his long dedication to the love of his life, who was now gone but would always hold’s Bill’s affection. He talked about his dog, his friends, his family in Tennessee, his work life and a variety of topics that left Harold’s brain in a whirl.

From there the two proceeded to shop their way around the giant supermarket. While Harold worked on a shopping list laid out according to the design of the store, Bill seemed to wander aimlessly, picking up items at random. When Harold was finished and through the check out line, Bill was just getting to a cashier.

Harold looked at Bill’s cart and wondered how anyone could spend so much time shopping for so few items. Unless Bill had a good supply of food items at home already, he would certainly have to go shopping a second time this same week. To Harold, that seemed awfully wasteful.

On the trip home, Bill continued telling Harold the story of his life. Harold, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine he had anything significant to add to the conversation. Mostly he confined himself to monosyllabic responses to Bill’s stories.

Harold took his groceries into his kitchen with an assist from Bill, after which the neighbor was quickly on his way.  “Perhaps we can do this again next week,” Bill said as he left. Harold had no idea what to say. He couldn’t imagine another such trip, though there was nothing wrong with the shopping adventure. It was just … different.

After putting away his supplies, Harold looked at the clock and to his surprise, he was right on schedule. It really didn’t seem possible, but Harold’s clock never lied.

To be continued…


The character of Harold previously appeared in “Soup and Sandwich” and “The Case With The Missing Egg.”

THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD

Originally a chapter from my book. Abbreviated these days, but still (sort of) relevant.

I grew up in a semi-rural nook in the middle of Queens, New York. The city had surrounded us leaving a tiny enclave walking distance from the subway.

The house was more than a hundred years old. It had been changed by each family who had lived there, so much that I doubt the original builder would have recognized it. From its birth as a 4-room bungalow in the 1800s, by 1951 it had become a warren of hallways, staircases and odd rooms that could be hard to find.

It sat at the top of a hill amidst the last remaining fully-grown white oaks in New York, the rest having fallen to make masts for tall ships. The shadows of the oaks were always over the house. Beautiful, huge and a bit ominous. Some of the branches were bigger than ordinary trees. I remember watching the oaks during storms, how the enormous trees swayed. I wondered if one would crash through the roof and crush me.

I was four when we moved into the house, five by summer. When the weather grew warm, I was told to go out and play. Like an unsocialized puppy, I had no experience with other children, except my baby sister and older brother and that didn’t count. Now, I discovered other little girls. What a shock! I had no idea what to do. It was like greeting aliens … except that I was the alien.

First contact took place on the sidewalk. We stood, three little girls, staring at each other. First on one foot, then the other, until I broke the silence with a brilliant witticism. “I live up there,” I said. I pointed to my house. “We just moved here. Who are you?” I was sure they had a private club into which I would not be invited. They were pretty — I was lumpy and awkward.

“I’m Liz,” said a pretty girl with green eyes. She looked like a china doll, with long straight hair. I wanted that hair. I hated mine, which was wild, curly and full of knots. She gestured. “I live there,” she pointed. The house was a red Dutch colonial. It had dark shutters and a sharply pitched roof.

A dark-haired, freckle-faced girl with braids was watching solemnly. “I’m Karen,” she said. “That’s my house,” she said, pointing at a tidy brick colonial with bright red geraniums in ornate cement pots on both sides of a long brick staircase. I’d never seen geraniums or masonry flower pots.

“Hello,” I said again, wondering what else I could say to keep them around for a while. I’d never had friends, but something told me I wanted some. We stood in the sunlight for a while, warily eyeing each other. I, a stranger. I shuffled from foot to foot.

Finally, I fired off my best shot. “I’ve got a big brother,” I announced. They were unimpressed. I was at a loss for additional repartee. More silence ensued.

“We’re going to Liz’s house for lemonade,” Karen said, finally. Liz nodded. They turned and went away. I wondered if we would meet again. I hadn’t the experience to know our future as friends was inevitable.

Summer lasted much longer back then than it does nowadays. By the time spring had metamorphosed into summer, I had become a probationary member of The Kids Who Lived On The Block. I did not know what went on in anyone else’s house. I imagined lights were bright and cheerful in other houses. No dark shadows. No sadness or pain except in my scary world where the scream of a child in pain was background noise, the sound of life going on as usual. Behind it, you could hear my mother pleading: “Please, the neighbors will hear!” As if that was the issue.

Across the street, Karen’s mother was drinking herself into a stupor every night. The only thing that kept Karen from a nightly beating was her father. He was a kindly older man who seemed to be from another world. As it turned out, he would soon go to another world. Before summer was ended, Karen’s father died of a heart attack and after that, she fought her battles alone.

In the old clapboard house where I thought Liz led a perfect life, battle raged. Liz’s father never earned enough money and their house was crumbling. It legally belonged to Liz’s grandmother. Nana was senile, incontinent and mean, but she owned the place. In lucid moments, she always reminded Liz’s dad the family lived there on her sufferance. Where I imagined a life full of peace and good will, there was neither.

About 6 or 7.

A lovely neighborhood. Fine old homes shaded by tall oaks. Green lawns rolling down to quiet streets where we could play day or night. I’m sure the few travelers who strayed onto our street, envied us.

“How lucky these folks are,” they must have thought, seeing our grand old houses. “These people must be so happy.”

I have a picture in my album. It’s black and white, a bit faded. It shows us sitting in Liz’s back yard. I’m the tiny one in the middle. A little sad. Not quite smiling.

We envied each other. It would be years before we learned each other’s secrets and by then, we’d be adults. Too late to give each other the comfort we’d needed while we grew up, lonely in our big old houses all those years ago.

NEIGHBORS

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

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 it.  Garry just got stares until they realized they’d seen him on TV. Celebrity beats skin color, at least here in the north.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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

Ned was massive. Tattooed. Hung with a bunch of skin-heads. They had raucous parties with lots of beer. We didn’t expect to be invited and we weren’t. Ned also flew a Confederate flag. Prominently. We learned he’d always done it. It was part of some family roots thing tying him to his original home state of Georgia. Me? I thought them — and still think — it’s time the south moved on. The war ended a long time ago. Get over it. But I’m from New York so I probably don’t get it. Apparently a lot of people don’t get it.

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.

Garry is pragmatic and tough. His mild-mannered demeanor belies his Marine Corps interior. Semper fi. 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!”

Photo: Garry Armstrong

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 gave back our extension ladder before leaving.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Other folks live there now. They are not actively hostile, which is about the best one could say of them. In the two and half years they have lived there, they’ve never said hello. I doubt they ever will. They object to our dogs barking. Hard to argue with that but 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 he did and gave us a huge discount. He turned out to be a funny guy and a good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it.

THE GARDEN BY THE FENCE

The Last Plant, by Rich Paschall


Every spring and summer for many years, decades in fact, Mr. Jardin had spent weekday evenings and all day Saturday or Sunday tending to his yard and garden.  With such a large area to manage, Mr. Jardin found the work to be a full-time job, in addition to his full-time job.

The yard was bigger than most in the area and there was a long garden down one side with a vast variety of plants.  Along the other side ran a sidewalk, but Mr. Jardin found just enough room between the walk and the neighbor’s fence for a row of lilies of the valley.  The flowers did not last long, but the large green leaves were there all season.

Beyond the back fence near to the alley was a cement slab where Mr. Jardin often parked his car.  Along a fence on the side of his cement parking space, and all the way to his back fence, were more flowers and plants that needed attention.  As the years went on, the gardener had to choose which sections to work each week.  The idea of working from one end to another in one day was no longer possible.  He was slowing down, and he knew it.

This particular year, Mr. Jardin could be found near the back fence every evening after work and often on weekends too.  He could never seem to get everything under control, so each day he took his carrying case with the garden tools and a plastic bag for the weeds that were pulled or plants that were trimmed and headed to the same spots.  Sometimes he brought a little garden bench with him.  It was the kind you could turn over and kneel on.  When turned over, you could use the legs on either side to help get up.  Mr. Jardin needed that some days.

Most evenings this season a woman came walking down the alley and passed by Mr. Jardin’s garden.  Sometimes she was carrying plants, sometimes a shopping bag.  If she caught the attention of the gardener by the alley, she would smile and nod and continue on her way.  It seemed odd that she would come down the alley as it could not possibly be a short cut from anywhere.  The gardener did not give it much of a thought.  He was focused on the flowers and plants, weeds and grass.

One day, the alley lady stopped and watched Mr. Jardin at work.  When he finally noticed her she complemented him on all the nice flowers.  He smiled and nodded politely and she was off to wherever the alley lady goes.  For the next few days, the woman found a comment to make about the flowers as she passed and Mr. Jardin always expressed his thanks.

Then one warm evening in early summer, the alley woman stopped as usual and when she got the gardener’s attention, she said, “My name is Mary, by the way.  Actually Marylou, but I never liked that.  You can just call me Mary.”  The gardener’s had a big smile in return for her.  She was an ordinary looking woman, much younger than Mr. Jardin but still middle-aged, so he thought it interesting that she would want to have a conversation with him.  She wore a wide-brimmed hat that would seem perfect for summer gardening.  Her long brown hair was tucked up inside.

“I’m Mr. Jardin,” stated the amateur garden master.  Seeing her disappointment at a formal introduction, he quickly added, “Roger Jardin.  I guess you can just call me Roger.”  He was not much for socializing, so even at his age he was not comfortable with introductions and conversation.

For the next few nights Mary stopped to talk to Roger on her way from wherever it was that led her to the alley, and Roger always made a little time in his important weed pulling duties to say a few words.  Then Mary surprised Roger with an invitation.  “Perhaps you would like to come over for dinner some evening,” she stated with an inviting smile.

“Oh, uh…why?” a confused Roger replied.  Mary laughed a little.

“Well, because I thought you might be hungry enough some evening to come over.  You can not work out here every night.”  Roger actually thought he could work out there every evening until it was too dark, unless the rains came.  The alley pair decided on a date in two days because rain was predicted.  Mary explained she lived around the corner in an apartment building. They made a date.

Roger was right on time.  The two had a pleasant dinner and a nice chat.  “That must be a lot of work, planting all of those flowers,” Mary commented.  Her interest in the garden pleased Roger.

“I do not actually plant anything anymore, except for one tomato plant near to the house.  The others are perennials or volunteers.”

“Volunteers?” Mary was unclear what Roger meant.

“There are flowers that come up because of seeds dropped by last year’s flowers.  It is almost as if they were perennials.  Other seeds might come on the wind or from the birds.  I don’t plant.  I just pull.”

Mary stopped by the alley often in the weeks that followed to comment on the hard work of the garden, and Roger always smiled and said nice things to Mary in return.

One day Mary walked by and found Roger lying in the garden.  She called out his name, but there was no response.  She went right up to him to him and called out loudly, “Roger!” but there still was no response.  She poked at him, but he was lifeless.  She shook her head and said to herself, “I knew he was working too hard, especially for a man of his age.”

At that she picked one of the long-stemmed yellow flowers she had admired so much, turned around, and headed home.

DOWN BY THE DELI

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge – May 12, 2017


It has been cold and rainy this entire month. I think we’ve had one completely sunny day. Otherwise, we get half an hour here and there. Between rains.

We took the dogs in for their quarterly grooming today. It was raining when we came out. We don’t even get one whole day without mud, but they were beyond dirty. They needed grooming.

Help wanted

Open!

Long hours

Garry inside

We stopped at the deli coming home. It has changed owners. The new people work insanely long hours. This is what is so great about our immigrant population. These folks work hard and they don’t spend a lot of time complaining about it. They make wonderful neighbors.

A STATELY TREE

Branching Out, by Rich Paschall


William was staring up at the giant tree when Mr. Dubois softly approached.  “It really is a magnificent tree,” he told William in a consoling tone of voice.  William would have none of that.  He glared back at the neighbor before speaking.

“It is a horrible tree, sir.  It has been for years,” William said frankly.  “And now it has killed my mother and it has to go.”

Exactly one week earlier William’s elderly mother was working in the garden when a branch from the large tree fell on top of her.  Apparently no one saw the accident and she was lying there for a long time before help was called.  It was too late, however, as the old branch was too big and heavy.  It pinned her to the spot and she was unable to cry out.

72-Old-Tree-Uxbridge-0807_093

“Oh no, William, this old tree did not kill anyone.  It is quiet and harmless.  It was just an accident.  That’s all it was. Perhaps some wind knocked a dying branch off the tree.”

“My mother hated that tree and she should have gotten rid of it years ago,” he retorted.

“You must be mistaken.  I think she loved the tree.  Just look at its stately magnificence.  Why, there isn’t a finer shade tree in the neighborhood!  In the summer, it protects your whole house.  In the fall its colors are a joy.  It must be twice as tall as the house.  I believe it has been there more than 100 years.  It was probably planted when your mother’s nice home was first built.”

“Mr. Dubois,” William began, “that is exactly the problem.  In the spring it drops a million seeds. Every fall, it drops tons of leaves.  The roots are in everything. The sidewalk is cracked as is the basement floor.  We must clear roots from the drain pipes every year.  My mother was tired of this thing and planned to take it down.”

Mr. Dubois gasped.  He just could not imagine anyone wanting to take down such a grand tree.  He begged William to consider the benefits of the tree.

“There are no benefits, Mr. Dubois.  The damn thing must go. Period. When I collect my mother’s insurance money, that’s exactly I’m going to do.  It would be a tribute to her if I took her money and removed this threat to my home and my neighbors’ homes.”

72-Old-Tree-Uxbridge-0807_094

William knew a tree that size would cost a fortune to remove.  It was twice as tall as the house.  Branches went through all the cables that ran to the house from the alley.  He could never have afforded the thousands of dollars it would cost to remove a giant tree,  but with the windfall from the life insurance money his mother had left him, he could do it.

A month later, Mr. Dubois was passing the estate when he spotted William by the tree behind the house. He was smiling.  He walked up to him and said, “I hope now that some time has passed, William,  you see what a lovely tree it is.”

“On the contrary, sir, I see what a menace it is. And now, I can afford to get rid of it. I am calling for quotes from trees services. I think rose bushes would look terrific here, don’t you?”

“William, you offend this magnificent living thing.”

“A tree can’t be offended. But I can be … and I am.  Soon we’ll have a clear view of the sky.”

Mr. Dubois looked at the tree, shook his head, and walked away.

William remained under the tree and considered how he might make use of the space he’d regain when the tree was gone. Suddenly, there was a loud snapping. A huge branch fell from the tree onto William.  He was knocked to the ground gasping for breath.  Although it was late summer, some leaves rained down too and covered him.

A broken limb

A broken limb

About an hour later paramedics arrived, took the branch off William and brushed the leaves from the poor soul.  They did their best to revive William, but after working on him a while, they shook their heads. Then, they put him into the ambulance and drove away.

Mr. Dubois had been watching from across the street.  He shook his head too, apparently amazed such a thing could happen twice.

Slowly William’s neighbor walked across the quiet city street.  The avenue was lined with old homes that had been erected more than 100 years earlier, when the neighborhood was first settled by immigrants from Sweden and Norway.  A handful of homes still had the giant trees that were planted when their wood frame homes were built.  William’s mother had perhaps the most stately tree of all.

The best tree of all

The best tree of all

Mr. Dubois walked up to William’s tree and inspected all the branches for any more old and dying limbs.  Everything was healthy and blooming.  Finally Mr. Dubois spoke to the tree.

“I warned them,” he explained.  “I warned them both, but they would not listen.  So I did as you indicated both times.  After the loud noise I waited an hour before calling paramedics.  Perhaps the boy will not return either.  It would be a shame to have to drop another branch.”

Mr. Dubois took one more look at his beloved tree. And went home.

FENCES, A MENDING WALL, AND OTHER BARRIERS

I hate to sound didactic, but I’m going to anyway. Robert Frost did not believe that “good fences make good neighbors.” That isn’t what the poem is about. His neighbor kept saying it, while Frost tried to tell him it isn’t true. His neighbor, however, had heard it from his father and would not listen.

Everyone quotes this poem. I often wonder how many people have actually read it all the way through.

Robert Frost says, in the first verse, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” among which Robert Frost could be counted. He agrees that sometimes, you need a wall to keep out wild creatures … or hunters … but finally, he gets to the end and points out ”

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

His neighbor ignores him and Frost ends the poem by saying:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost doesn’t think good fences make good neighbors. He thinks good neighbors make good neighbors.


MENDING WALL

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


FENCE | THE DAILY POST

A PRETTY GOOD PLUMBER, TOO

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?

72-Whitinsville-Downtown-Snow-Roads_028

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.

picture of snow all white

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.

72-Driveway-Autumn-MA--1009_028

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.

I miss Ned. No one fixed pipes like Ned and we really need some plumbing work. He always gave us a huge discount.

He turned out to be a funny guy and a pretty good neighbor. Who’d have thunk it?

THE COMMUNITY EVENT

Do You Have The Time? by Rich Paschall

There are plenty of community organizations that will grab your time, it only you let them.  They want you for a variety of tasks and the really organized organizers will stalk you if they think you will volunteer for something.  They want you to stuff envelopes, sell tickets, make phone calls, sit at booths and sell things.  They will have you directing traffic, ushering people, handing out programs.  You can go to meetings, answer email, talk on the phone, spend hours of your precious time in pursuit of the organizational mission, whatever that might be.

But what if you do not have the time for this?  After all, if you are part of a family crew, you may have to drive little Johnny or Suzy to soccer practice, karate lessons, football practice, baseball practice, cheerleading practice, dance class, piano lessons, drum and bugle corps, or basketball games.  If they are young, it is pre-school or grade school or day care or after school care.  If they are older it is still sports, music, dances, proms, band, drama, speech and please, drop them at the corner so no one knows their mommy is still driving them around.

Of course, there are all the adult requirements too.  There are the weddings and showers, wakes and funerals.  As we get older, there are more of the latter.  There are dances and parties we don’t want to attend and family events for which you must make your famous __________ (insert dish name here).  It all keeps us so very busy.  How dare these “organizers” presume to prevail upon our valuable time?

Yet, these various events to which you are driving the beloved little ones (or not so-little ones) are probably staffed by volunteers.  Adults, and a handful of older kids, are taking tickets, selling refreshments,. selling t-shirts, directing people around events.  They are running for ice, and pop and cups and napkins.  They are getting mustard and ketchup. They are making emergency runs to Costco or Sam’s Club so they do not run out of water or buns or napkins.  In other words, they are making everything possible that you and little Johnny and Suzy are attending.

As a staff member at a community organization for a few years, and for a private school a few others, I know what it is like to have to run events, dependent on volunteers who may or may not show up.  Fortunately, most are dedicated and in their places when the time comes.

Yes, that's me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

Yes, that’s me on the left, getting rained on for the cause.

While some organizations pressure the parents of the children who participate to volunteer, many others are reliant on the good will of neighbors and friends.  While many don’t know it, the events they attend throughout the year might not be there if there were no volunteers.  In fact, some community organizations die for lack of volunteer spirit.  A founder of one community organization here said many decades after the organization he began was up and running, that perhaps it should die if the community was not willing to come forward and support it.  They in fact gave up some large events for lack of volunteers.

Here I could give you the “social contract” type speech.  You know the one.  If you are part of the community, you must give up something in order to reap the benefits of community activities.  That something you must give up is your time.  I know that is hard to do in this day and age.  After all we must get home to check our facebook and twitter accounts.  We must look at Instagram and snapchat.  We must check Messenger and Skype.  Then there is Pinterest, StumbleUpon and You Tube, Vimeo and Vivo.

What enriches our lives is what we invest in.  If we invest in our community and its events, then we are richer too.  The volunteer spirit does not necessarily lead to dull and boring jobs.  Instead it can lead to knowing your neighbors.  You could be learning about the organization to which you and your children participate.  It can open new avenues to friendship in the community in which you live.  It can give you an understanding of what it takes to make a community.

Hillary Clinton famously said “It Takes A Village,” from the African Proverb that it take a village to raise a child.  In fact, it takes a community, a good community, to raise a child.  The only way a community can be good and strong, is with the volunteer spirit of its residents.  Are you going to give up an occasional Saturday at some event or sports bar to aid your community, or will you just let someone else do it?  If you choose the later, then I remind you of the philanthropist who suggested that it might be better to let a community organization die, if the community was unwilling to support it.

 

 

ROBERT FROST – MENDING WALL

MENDING WALL

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood

The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.
“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?” Finally, the lady without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears in two weeks.

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.

75-MidtownGA-NK-27

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.

75-home-105

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.

75-DecSnowHP-6

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.