“I ain’t selling,” he repeated for the hundredth time. “I don’t care how much money you wave at me, this is my place and I ain’t leaving.”
“But Mr. Hoding, we’ve bought every other piece of property we need for our parking deck. Your house is right in the middle. You’ve held out long enough, you’re a shrewd bargainer, but this is our final offer. Please just accept our very generous check and let us get on with it.”
“I. Ain’t. Leaving.”
The two men from the parking deck company looked at him in despair. This old coot had been driving them nuts for months. They’d kept raising their offer, but he was impossible to deal with. They were done being nice. Now the gloves came off.
“You know what they call a place like yours?” one of them said, his lip curling. “A spite house. Do you want to be known as the old fart in the spite house? If you won’t sell, we’ll build around you. See how you like living at the bottom of a stack of cars.”
“You better not damage my property,” Mr. Hoding said grimly. “Make sure you keep your machinery off my driveway, I don’t want it cracked. And don’t be killing my trees, either. That maple’s a hundred years old.”
“But Mr. Hoding, there will be major construction right on top of you; we can’t guarantee there won’t be any damage.”
“You’d better guarantee it. Newspapers would love to have a human interest story like this on the front page, with pictures: Big Business Bullies Old Man. I don’t think your bosses would like that. Now I’ll thank you to leave my home.”
Mr. Hoding held his front door open and stood waiting for his visitors to leave. They stalked past him, got into their shiny black car and drove away.
“Good riddance,” he said to Polly, his little dog. “For the next several months, I reckon we’ll be glad we’re both nearly deaf.”
Julius Hoding had lived in his little house for more than half a century. When he and his bride first moved in, it had been a leafy, convivial neighborhood, a good place to raise a family. But things changed. The children grew up, his wife passed on, and the small bungalows around him were bought and knocked down until his was the only one left standing. While there was still a beautiful tree canopy over his yard, much of the surrounding area had been paved to make way for offices and stores. With them came traffic – cars that had to be parked somewhere. Hence, the new parking deck that would soon engulf him.
When bulldozers started tearing up the ground Mr. Hoding sat in a lawn chair and watched. Old growth trees crashed to the earth. Mr. Hoding felt their screams. He wiped his eyes a few times, but he didn’t look away. He was saying goodby. That was the worst day, seeing the trees go down.
Earth movers roared as they scraped and shaped the bare ground around him. Mr. Hoding mowed his lawn, sending the smell of freshly cut grass over the silt fence to mingle with diesel fumes. A guy on one of the earth movers came to the edge of the yard and asked if he could get a drink out of Mr. Hoding’s garden hose. Instead, he was given a glass of iced tea flavored with mint grown in the garden. He sipped appreciatively.
“Damn shame about your place,” he said. “I don’t blame you for not wanting to leave, but what are you going to do when there’s cars parked all around you?”
“Why, just what I’ve always done, I guess. Mow grass, weed the garden, rake leaves, shovel snow.”
The earth mover operator grinned and shook Mr. Hoding’s hand before he climbed back onto his monstrous machine. He left a big island around the old maple tree so as not to damage the roots.
And then one day the deck was done and open for business.
“Hi, Mr. Hoding!”
She worked on the fifth floor, but parked on ground level and took the elevator. She told Mr. Hoding she just hated to wind around and around the narrow lanes of the parking deck. And besides, she liked to start her day by greeting him as he sat on his front porch watching the workers arrive.
The looming decks around him cast a pall over his garden and stunted his trees, but he got used to it. “Too old to garden, anyway,” he told Polly, “and the shade keeps us cool in the summer.”
He’d gotten acquainted with people as they came and went from their jobs. Many called hello, and some even came and sat on the porch for a few minutes. Sunny brought her baby to show him. A young man in a suit and tie took the shovel out of Mr. Hoding’s hand one snowy morning and finished clearing his driveway, waving off thanks and offers of payment. Mr. Hoding had never met so many nice people, not even in the old days.
“You just never know how things will turn out,” he told Polly. “Lemons and lemonade and all that. One thing for sure, anybody who comes to see me can have their choice of parking places.”
Polly saw his smile and wagged her tail.