My neighbor, Frank, passed away the night before last from complications arising after a hip replacement. Though I'd known him only a year, his death has left a bit of a hole in me.
He epitomized the kindest, friendliest, most generous neighbor you'd ever hope to have. When my home was burglarized
, he came over that night and helped me seal up the damaged door that wouldn't close. When I planned to be out of town, he kept an eye on the place for me, and often parked behind my house to present the illusion that someone was home. He mowed the parking strip in front of my home when he happened to be out mowing his own. He always put my garbage cans out because they were right next to his own. And just about this time last year, he was giving me bags upon bags of his fabulous home-grown cherry tomatoes.
And then there is the life he led in his younger years - the life I got only brief glimpses of during our conversations over the fence. He was something of a local celebrity in building and racing cars (a Google search lead me to an old trophy of his recently sold on eBay). He played fast-pitch softball - the same Google search brought up a picture of him being inducted into the local old-timer's baseball-softball association Hall of Fame a year ago.
He'd lived in the same house since 1957, and though I never saw much left to improve, he spent much of his time working on his house and garden. His garden puts most gardens to shame. He'd rotate out flowering bulbs once the blooms had fallen off, and replace them with some other green plant currently in bloom. The earthy smells of fresh dirt and cut grass that often wafted over to my home were intoxicating. Both front and back are, even now, filled with blossoms, fruits, and vegetables.
There were the things we never got around to doing. He'd always said his basement was large and full of trophies. His son was a well-known major league baseball player back in the 70s and early 80s, and whenever Frank mentioned him, there was a notable hint of pride in his voice. I always said that "one day" I'm come over and see his basement, because it was clearly a source of pride. He could cook authentic Chinese food, and our future plans included a dinner at his home one day.
Something wasn't right Monday. I wasn't sure if he'd had the surgery yet, but I hadn't seen him in the yard over the weekend, an uncommon occurrence. Late in the night I was awakened by an idling diesel engine, and discovered a fire truck sitting in front. Two unhurried firemen were sitting in front, filling out paperwork, and I saw no ambulance. The truck stayed there for over an hour, the firemen occasionally glancing expectantly back in the direction of Frank's unlit front stoop. I shrugged it off, rationalizing that any serious emergency would have awakening me to sirens and flashing lights and the hurried movements of uniformed people, not a fire truck rumbling placidly at the curb. But Wednesday morning as I was wiping the dew from my car windows, his wife Jenneane came out to tell me he had passed away in the night. A clot had formed in his leg following surgery, causing fatal complications.
And now I'm sitting here, tears forming at the corners of my eyes when I think that I'll never again see him shuffling around his garden or puttering in his garage, tending to beauty that, though it wasn't mine, I was blessed to enjoy. I'm feeling silly and guilty for the times I wasn't in the mood to chat when I drove up, and ducked in the house to avoid conversation, for never following through with my intention to see the basement he was so proud of. "One day" seems so perverse, so wrong, so irresponsible and wasteful. "Thank you" always seemed so inadequate for all of the help and favors he did for me, and it remains inadequate still.
Frank, I'll miss you.