The Good Neighbor

The Good Neighbor

Being retired is nothing like I always thought it’d be. Gladys and I, we figured we’d travel some. Got one of those silver Airstream trailers to pull behind the truck. She liked to plan where we’d go: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Muir Woods, Pacific Ocean. But then she got sick, and then she died. I sold the Airstream. Wouldn’t be fun without Glad.

I wake up early. By seven, my day’s well underway. Watch some morning TV., but not those shows where people scream like banshees every time the camera points their way. What gets into normal folks to make them scream like that? I do my outside work while it’s still cool, but I’m careful about using power tools too early. It’s hard to know how to live in this world without Glad, but I try not to be that bothersome old geezer.

One morning I’d finished what I could do without making noise and was sitting on the porch. Couldn’t have been a nicer day – birds shouting, sun pouring down. I noticed the new kid whose family just moved in next door trying to start a lawn mower. I could smell the gas, but he kept on yanking that rope. Finally, I walked over to him.

“It’s flooded,” I said. “If you wait a bit, it’ll start right up.”

“Thanks,” he said. “I never mowed before. My grandparents are coming and Dad said I had to get the yard looking decent.”

“Oh, yeah? Where your grandparents from?”

“India. They’ll be staying for three months.” He looked worried. “I don’t remember them; the last time they were here, I was only three.”

“I reckon it’ll be all right,” I said. “Grandparents and grandkids always seem to get along just fine.”

“Yeah. I don’t know what they’ll do all day, though, while Mom and Dad are at work.”

I shrugged. “Try that mower again.”

It roared to life and the kid gave me a wave and took off mowing. The wavy lines in the grass made me smile, but he was doing his best. After that, we talked whenever he saw me outside. He said his name was Chad – good-looking boy, big dark eyes and inky blue-black hair. He called me Sir, capital S.

When the doorbell rang on a Saturday afternoon, I was surprised. I don’t get company. It was Chad and he apologized right away for bothering me.

“Sir, my Grandpa wants to build an arbor in the back yard like the one you have,” he said. “He wants to make it for my Mom’s birthday.”

“Well, that would sure be nice,” I said, puzzled as to what this had to do with me.

“But Dad doesn’t have much in the way of tools.” He held out a small fishing tackle box, lid open. Inside was a cheap hammer, a couple of screw drivers and a plastic box with a few nails. Chad looked at me hopefully.

“Now, I don’t loan out my tools. Good tools are expensive and I saved up over the years to buy mine.” I heard myself – scolding, selfish.

Chad nodded. “Yes, Sir.” He looked down as a dull red flush crept up his cheeks. I felt like a jerk.

“But what I can do, if you want, is come over and give you and your Grandpa a hand, bring my tools with me.”

So I met Grandpa, whose name was Hakim. He had calloused hands – a good sign – and knew how to swing a hammer. I took along the plans I’d drawn up for my arbor and Hakim studied them carefully.

“I will make a few changes, just so it is my own,” he said.

“Sure,” I said, and we got started.

Chad’s parents left early in the morning for their jobs at the Centers for Disease Control and returned at six or seven in the evening. The grandparents kept busy. Hakim worked on the arbor. His wife, Deeba, cleaned and did laundry, and then cooked a big meal in the evening. They always asked me to stay for dinner, but I was afraid the food would be too spicy until Deeba convinced me to try it. It was delicious. It got so I was eating with them nearly every evening. I’d contribute whatever was ripe in my garden and Deeba would make it into something wonderful.

Then the arbor was finished, and Chad painted it by himself. Did a pretty decent job, too. There was no reason for me to be hanging around their back yard anymore, so I packed up my tools and went home. Didn’t want to make a pest of myself. Hakim and Deeba kept inviting me to dinner, but I’d make excuses. Always better to leave before they wish you’d leave.

I was sitting on the porch one evening, waiting ‘til it was time for Jeopardy to come on. It had been a day when the hands on the clock didn’t seem to move. I miss Glad a lot on days like that. So I was happy to see Hakim and Chad walking over to join me.

“Sir, Grandpa and I were thinking,” Chad began, “we’d like to make a garden like yours. But my Dad doesn’t have much in the way of gardening tools.”

I looked at Hakim and he looked back in perfect round-eyed innocence. I grinned.

“Now, I don’t lend out my gardening tools,” I said, and we all laughed.


3 thoughts on “The Good Neighbor

  1. I really liked this one. Just wish we had a young neighbor who would lend us his tools/experience.


  2. Well, I’ll be darned. A real nice story there, Doris. Sweet and warm. I loved the way you conveyed the emotion of the lonely widower. Keep it comin’.


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