Friday, January 31, 2014
"Going for a walk, Harold?" I said trimming my garden hedge.
"Trying to," my 86 year-old neighbor said tying his shoelaces.
"It's a good day for a walk."
"If you say so."
"I'll hold down the fort!"
"Nothing's going to happen. Nothing ever happens."
Ah, Harold. He is a sun beam of light and positivity: hardly ever. Unbeknownst to us, back when Mr. Wonderful and I bought The House, into the deal was tossed a lifetime of fixing it up, unending taxes and taxing neighbors. What's that old expression? "You can't pick your neighbors but you can tolerate them to the best of your ability until they push you too far and you say 'No way, Jose. There and no farther!'" Yes, that's how it goes.
Buying The House we got lucky by getting neighbors who cared about their properties, who cared about the other neighbors and who cared about seeing the glass of the world as half full.
Then there was Harold.
He had all the ingredients for a happy life: 1) A loving wife; 2) Kids and grandkids; and 3) A house that was already fixed up. Compared to me he was batting a 1000. When I'm overworked I often wish I had a wife. And not just any wife but a keeper like Norma. But Harold didn't see it that way. He focused on the negative complaining that his grass was dead, his crop of weeds was hearty and nothing ever happened. Personally, I found it hard to believe that nothing ever happened to a man who'd been alive throughout the 20th century. What about the Korean War? WWII? The Beatles playing on the Ed Sullivan show?!
So on this warm evening while I was pruning the dead branches from my front garden, Harold went out for a walk around the neighborhood. Maybe, I thought snipping a dead stalk off the Bird of Paradise, getting some fresh air would change his perspective.
The bad thing about pruning the front garden is that it takes time. The good thing is that it gives me the opportunity to see the world pass by. First Cyrus, a Persian man who lived around the corner, strolled by and we chatted. Next came a couple pushing their infant in a stroller. Then came the ambulance.
It rolled up silently but with lights flashing and stopped right before Harold and Norma's house. I dropped my pruning clippers. Two fit EMS guys jumped out and rolled a stretcher up the front walk and entered... Jerry's house. The ambulance lights were still flashing. The tension was thick. Just then Harold came hoofing down the street.
"Is it Norma?!" he hollered huffing and puffing as he passed my house going toward his own. Thinking that his wife of 58 years was in an ambulance, I'm surprised Harold didn't keel over with a heart attack then and there.
"No, they're in Jerry's house."
"He's too young to go."
"Technically Jerry's middle aged."
"He's 30 years younger than me."
Harold did have a point. But in truth, there wasn't any rhyme or reason to it. Some "young" people went before their time and some "old" people refused to go to the exit despite the fact that nothing ever happened.
Harold bee-lined into his house to check on Norma. Meanwhile I watched the EMS guys roll the stretcher out of Jerry's house. Luckily, Jerry wasn't on it. He had an uncle visiting who'd had chest pains and it was that older man who was loaded into the ambulance and whisked off to the hospital. I sighed with relief: Jerry was okay. I sighed again: Norma was okay. I sighed a third time: Harold was okay.
The next day I saw Harold and Norma outside wearing sweatshirts.
"Going for a walk, you two?" I said trimming the garden hedge.
"Trying to," Harold said kneeling in front of Norma to tie her shoelaces.
"I'll hold down the fort," I said. "Because you never know what might happen."
Harold nodded, his perspective had changed. Then clasping Norma's hand, something happened to my two 80-something neighbors: they took a walk together.