Wednesday, February 12, 2014
We don't have many neighbors out here in the country. Long ago back in town, the old couple next door picked up what we used to call a "picture window" somewhere and carpenter-ed it into their south wall, the one facing our place, a move we found a little disconcerting, as if we were the view they wanted more of.
They were retired farmers who'd moved to town, and neighbor John, like most of them, could fix most anything, a talent with which I've not been blessed. Truth is, we loved them, in part because they took care of us. We felt a little naked under the gaze that new picture window afforded them, but we would have suffered greater indignities just to keep them next door because Farmer John knew how to fix most anything and that young couple with the little kids next door--us--needed a whole lot of TLC in the old house.
They were what neighbors ought to be, I suppose, people who care.
We moved, but for years the old man who lived beside us in the new old place got his '48 spit-shined Chevy pick-up running when the leaves fell. He wanted to let me use that show truck to haul 'em all away. I don't think I ever asked--he just gave. 'Twas a blessing.
When I had a stroke (a phrase I don't like to use because it sounds much worse than it was), my wife called the neighbor across the street because she knew darn well my stony silence wasn't a behavior she recognized. He came immediately, and somehow I'll never forget--even though I was in some kind of fog--that he was half-dressed, a perfectly Sabbath-like white shirt over a pair of baggy shorts (he "preaches around" as we say). But there he was, even though he must have been spiffing up for the pulpit.
I never owned a snow-blower. We spent four years of our married lives in Arizona, but since 1976 we've lived in the upper Midwest--a short spell in the Badger State and all the rest here in Siouxland. No matter, there's never been a Toro in our garage or barn.
I'd like to say that I shouldered the job myself for forty years, but the truth is I've always had neighbors who'd come by to do the yeoman's work with their machines. I did my share of snow-shoveling, but without neighbors blasting through the drifts, I'd have pitched snow a whole lot higher.
When we came back from Wisconsin a couple weeks ago, I turned on the faucet in the shower and nothing--not a drop--descended. Nothing. It wasn't late, but it past nine and the temperature, of course, was obscene, the kind of night when neighborliness can be a real burden.
No matter. Our new neighbor is a builder himself, and he's done so much for us that I owe him far more than I could pay. I called him. He was over in a flash, literally. So was a friend from 20-minutes away, our go-to guy in the old place. There they were, the two of them, builders and movers and shakers--good Samaritans; I'm the guy beat up in the ditch. It's twenty below and that's not counting windchill.
We've been blessed is what I'm saying. For three summers of my life, I cleaned more toilets than any human being should when I worked in a lakeshore state park full of 'em. There's things I can do to fix a toilet, but at just about every other household task I'm a moron. But, we've always had good neighbors.
Right now the house next door is empty, Mom and Dad are in a hospital, bedside. There's been an accident, and while life itself isn't threatened, their 17-year-old son is still, a day and a half later, between surgeries. To say he's on the mend wouldn't be wrong, but it might well paint too rosy a picture because what happened out on some gravel road north of town won't be over in a fortnight. He's banged up, and it may well take some time before he walks around without giving a thought to what moves him.
It hurts to see that darkened house next door because it really hurts to think of them there, all of them, in that hospital room an hour away. The landscape we moved here to appreciate isn't as beautiful right now or at least can't be enjoyed with our neighbors being where they are, their son between surgeries and Mom and Dad unable and unwilling to leave his side.
"If there's anything we can do," I told them, like a ton of others, I suppose. But the truth is, I'm all thumbs. I don't know how to be a good neighbor to a good neighbor. I wish I did. I wish I knew what I could do.
All we can do is pray. Good night, he did all the dirt work around here. He stained the cement floor beneath my feet. He told me how to stack rocks for our retaining walls. He put our floor down and did the tiles for our backsplash. He came over in the dead of a cold, cold night when we had no water, and all we can do is pray?
All we can do is pray.
Bless 'em all, Lord--the boy, Mom, Dad, the surgeons, the nurses, the staff--bless 'em all, Lord. Bless 'em richly. Please, bless 'em all.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:27 AM