Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Passing of Curmudgeons

One night we were sitting at home finishing dinner and heard sirens.  This always makes my stomach drop, and even more so as it got closer and then down our street.

We looked out the window and saw that the police, fire department and ambulance were just a few doors down from our house.  An older couple has lived there for decades, and a lifetime of smoking had taken its toll on both of them these last few years.  Friendly neighbors who often took time to chat became more housebound.  They rarely seemed to move from the living room where the t.v. was on day and night, and even waving seemed to be an effort of late.

B. was the second person I met when we moved in and he seemed nice.  Enough.  When the house next door to him was sold,  an older man and his disabled wife moved in and almost from the beginning he and B. didn't get along.  In an effort to drain water away from his foundation that would flood his basement, the new neighbor started digging a trench in the front yard.  This was an eyesore for B. and his wife and the feud escalated to frequent yelling matches.  They wanted the neighbors to sign a petition to put a stop to this that they intended to submit to the city for some kind of fine or code enforcement.

Some of us were uncertain if this trench was really going to do much to solve a flooding problem that our end of the street has dealt with on a regular basis.  Rather, it seemed to be the daily, harmless work of a retired guy with too much time on his hands.

B. and his wife went door-to-door to collect signatures.  When they presented their case (which I already knew in great detail), I said that I would not sign it.  "Who would buy a house in this neighborhood with that mess in the front yard?' they asked. All of this had already caused a major rift on this street.  It was my impression that this new neighbor had gotten off to the wrong start with many people due to his sometimes abrasive personality, but when Maggie fell off her bike and badly hurt her elbow he stopped his digging, picked her up and carried her home.  "Mom, make sure you clean all that gravel out of her cut before you bandage her up," he said.  I was grateful he came to her aid and thought most of his problems were due to loneliness exacerbated by neighbors who wished he had never set foot here.

As B. and his wife stood at my front door unable to sway me to their side, his parting shot was, "I guess you don't care about your property values.  Or ours."

Shortly thereafter, the neighbor and his wife abruptly moved to assisted living. For some it was a cause for celebration, for others a waving of the white flag.

*******

Mark was dealing with his own set of conflicts at work.  A longtime colleague who was moved out of his space to make room for the new guy was not happy.  His tactics were more overt, and sandwiched between the two, Mark tried to keep the peace - usually in vain. Any snide remark or put down his senior coworker could come up with was said with abandon and it was a difficult environment to maneuver each day.

*******

Mark's former colleague died this fall.

B. was gone before the ambulance even got here.

******

When I would be out in the neighborhood, B.'s wife would make a point to stop me and say, "You guys have worked so hard on your yard. I love to look over and see what you're planting next."

When Mark went to the memorial service for his colleague his wife said, "You know you were his favorite, don't you?"

Two women who became adept at scooping the debris left from their spouses verbal land mines, and couldn't we all use someone like that when we fail to recognize our own bullying?

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