Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Gentle Neighbor

A few years ago, a couple we know was looking to buy a house and ended up seriously considering a property on a nearby island that consists of mostly farmland.  The house on the island was owned by a couple of artists who were looking to move closer in to the city.  The deal never went through, though the two couples liked each other a lot and found a connection.

The first couple ended up buying a house down the street from us and quickly became a fixture in the social fabric of our very active block.  They loved having the many kids with them to hang out on their front porch as they sipped afternoon wine.  Everyone loved them, and we were sad when their jobs took them to Arizona.  Rather than sell, they decided to keep the house for their retirement years and rent it out in the meantime.

On a whim, they placed an ad on craigslist, and the first people to show up to view the house were the folks from the farmland island, the ones whose house they'd almost bought a few years ago.  It was a crazy connection, and the artist couple ended up renting the house down the street.  Everyone talked about this weird coincidence for a long time.

The renters are probably in their fifties and take frequent walks around the neighborhood.  Several months ago, my kids started a "game" with them where one kid will stand in the middle of the sidewalk with both arms outstretched, demanding a password for the privilege of using the sidewalk.  I was worried about this game being an annoyance, but the couple insisted the kids play it and even seemed to get a kick out of it.  Thus, a friendship was born.

My kids adore this couple.  They run down to their house when they're out, calling their names in loud greeting.  Last year, the couple went on a trip to New York City and mailed a postcard to my kids with amazing artwork on the back, illustrations of their journey on the Staten Island Ferry, a trip we ourselves have taken several times.  This postcard stays taped to my kids' bunkbed.  It was a beautiful, whimsical thing.

We found out a few weeks ago that the Arizona-dwelling homeowners have decided to stay for good in the desert and are selling the house on our block.  The renters have to go.  They found another house just a few blocks south of us, but it won't be the same. 

Tonight, our neighbor pulled his easel out into the edge of the street to continue his small painting of another neighbor's house.  My daughter stood beside him for a long time watching what he was doing and telling him all the details he was missing.  The black and white block-owned cat came scrambling up the tree next to the easel, and we talked about the last block-owned cat, the one everyone hated and who now lives elsewhere. 

I looked for a minute at the new poem they posted in their poetry-stand in front of the house and then told him how much we're going to miss them when they move at the end of this month.  He turned to face me with the sun going down behind his back, and I saw tears in his eyes.  He swallowed hard, nodded slightly, and said how much they're going to miss our block too.

 I was incredibly touched in that moment by this gentle man, the one who quietly brings his easel into the street to paint and talks to my daughter the whole time, the one who holds his wife's hand as they walk down the street for donuts, always stopping to let my extroverted children entertain them before continuing on their way. 

Really we hardly know them but there's a sadness in me anyway as I think about their move.  We were so blessed to have this kind gentleness touch our family for a few months, and I hope my children always remember them and still demand a password when they try to pass on the sidewalk.

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