Helen sits in her garage with the door open, smoking a cigarette. She never smokes in her house and instead has created a living space, replete with chairs and a rug, in the third of the three-car garage attached to her home. She lites up several times a day. Raspy voiced Helen tells whoever will listen that she only smokes because she is so psychic, and the smoking grounds her. All who hear the story, myself included, smile and nod and don’t have the heart or the balls to tell her that psychic or not, she smokes because she is addicted to nicotine.
The woman lives next door to me and I often see her when I pull out of my driveway or when I am walking back from the lake and we smile politely and call out “hello” to one another. In the summertime she cruises the front lawn and stoops over to pick dandelions from the grass, because she doesn’t want to use “toxic chemicals” to get rid of them. She usually has a cigarette in her hand.
Last spring, we had an especially big snow. In fact it snowed for several days. When the sun finally came out, I heard the familiar sound of scraping on the driveways and walkways of the neighborhood as people moved the snow before the sun melted it and the night turned it into ice. I realized that the scraping I heard, was coming from my driveway. I looked out the window and there were three young men doing a job that held a slight amount of dread for me. I opened my window and yelled out “may I help you?” No, I actually didn’t mean could I help them…just one of those not -so-articulate phrases one uses when you wonder what the heck someone is doing in your yard. The boys let me know that they were there because of Helen. Helen had paid them to shovel her driveway, the driveway across the street and our driveway.
I stopped rolling my eyes when I heard her tell people that cigarette smoking grounded her. Having my driveway shoveled was a very kind, a very neighborly thing to do.
The neighbors on the other side of me are young and work a lot. He travels for his job. She pulls out of the garage every morning with kids in tow and arrives back in the late afternoon. Work is demanding enough, and then coming home and feeding a family and caring for them is a lot extra. I know a lot of people do it, but it amazes me. In the warm months I hear her kids squealing and playing in the back yard. It’s a pleasant sound. Somehow, in spite of the work and the long days, I often hear the parents hanging out with the young boy and girl in their back yard and they seem like a happy family. Last fall, the dad had spent a long time raking all of the leaves into piles that cold be bagged and taken to the curb. Not and easy task with so many cottonwoods in our neighborhood. About the time he finished, the kids discovered the piles of leaves and all joy broke loose. A lesser man might have yelled at them for messing up his work, but instead the dad dropped his rake and romped with his kids through the leaves, tackling them into piles of yellow-gold as they all laughed and screeched. Later that night, I heard him raking up the piles again and bagging them for the pickup the next morning.
Across the street from me lives a little girl named Susan. She is growing up too fast in my estimation. There should be some way to shrink her down and keep her in the open-hearted munchkin size that is so precious. My best days have started with pulling out of the driveway to leave for work and seeing five-year old Susan dressed as a princess jump up and down as she yelled “bye Stephanie, bye Stephanie, bye…” What a way to start a day. She is too old for the princess costume now. She gives me a wave now and then, but mostly she is absorbed in her friends with whom she walks to and from the school bus. To me, she will always be the princess across the street.
I have become more aware of my neighborhood since hubby and I retired this year. No longer tethered to a desk, I am home to watch the comings and goings; the parade of life; the children that march to the morning bus accompanied by family dogs and fathers with steaming mugs of coffee–the familiar sight of people taking their dogs to the lake, and brave mothers who manage strollers along with dogs and toddlers is all one big happy production. And once a day now, I load our dog into the car and drive to my favorite trail head where I know the names of all the dogs, but not their owners, a part of the constant movement and reaching of living.
At the barn up the road, hubby and I buy fresh eggs and things from the field. The stoner at the cash register is a Spicoli kind of character, right out of Central Casting, who offers me my favorite cookies. My sense of smell and moderately keen observations tells me that the young man suffers from the “blind munchies,” brought on by something other than beets growing in the field–but he is always willing to share whatever it is he is munching on with a kind “here you go man.”
This is my small world; my community and I love it. Not everything I see is perfect, and in a strange sort of way it is all perfect. It is a touchstone for how people really are that is no longer reflected in our leaders or our media who have a poor understanding of who lives in the neighborhood. For me, I see kindness all around me and human decency and it gives me hope for the future. So happy New Year to my neighbors, all the four-legged creatures, to my hubby and to my Labrador retriever, Jeter. May we all continue to know and appreciate each other for our similarities as well as for our differences!
Happy New Year!