I’m lucky that I have really good neighbors. Actually, great neighbors. This is what makes handling life’s challenges possible. Good folks who are neighborly and who graciously do things for one another. People you can call on to help out.
Text: Hey, you got a minute? I got this couch that weighs like a battleship that I need to load up and take to the dump.
Reply: Sure thing. Be right there.
Neighbors are the folks who are willing to risk a ruptured disk for a favor. They water your plants while you relax on the beach with your toes in the sand. They call you to see if you happen to have some extra plumbers’ putty on a Saturday night after all the stores are closed. They have the key to your house. They bring you a pie just because they feel like it.
This is how life gets done.
Right after we got married we moved to Tennessee. We had a small rental house right on the main drag from Blountville to Bristol. Hill country. Hollows and winding roads. Almost everyone I knew had a garden and a tobacco patch. That summer I grew the best tomatoes I’ve ever grown.
I was out back busting up some firewood. At home by myself. Dumb luck or stupid me, I swung and missed. The splitting maul went through the toe of my left tennis shoe.
At first, I didn’t even realize anything had happened. I knew I hit my foot, but there was no obvious sign of damage. My big toe felt numb from the blow, but it didn’t look like I was hurt. Then I reached down to feel the end of my shoe and realized it was sliced in two like it had been cut with a razor. I drew back my hand with blood on it.
By the time I made it into the kitchen and stood for a second by the wall phone, there was a rather large puddle of blood on the kitchen floor. I was feeling woozy as I dialed up my neighbor.
“I’ve cut my foot and was wondering if you could take me to the ER. I’m gonna need stitches.” I was trying to be calm as I lay on the floor looking at the ceiling.
Maybe I sounded too calm. She said, “Well I was about to jump in the shower. You think you could wait about an hour?”
“Uh, not really.” I thought I might bleed to death.
She came right over, loaded me in her car with a towel wrapped around my foot and took me to get fixed up. That’s a neighbor.
Monday evening, I was cleaning out some of the food dishes that had been brought to the house over the weekend. One bowl belonged to my neighbor, Nancy. It had been full of potato salad which had since been divided up into smaller containers for me and my daughter.
I washed up the bowl and took it down to her house to return it.
“That was some of the best tater salad. I sure appreciate you doing that.”
My daughter had asked her about the recipe. She was coy. “I’ll tell you a secret. You can buy it at Sam’s Club. I put it in a nice bowl because I didn’t want folks to think I was cheap.” I’ve always liked that about her. Straight up honest.
“I need a favor,” she said.
Nancy was taking care of our other neighbor’s dog while they were out of town. She, unexpectedly, needed to be gone for a couple of days, which led to a question about me looking after her dog, Biscuit, and the other dog, Mille. A two-dog favor. The only thing I needed to do was to let them out of both houses on Wednesday morning before I left for work. She gave me the keypad access codes to both front doors.
On Tuesday evening, I got a call. Her daughter-in-law was supposed to put the dogs in the house for the night. Biscuit was easy, but Millie was giving her fits. Barking and snarling. She was afraid to do anything with the dog.
“Could you go help her out,” was the jest of the phone call.
I was in Columbus, 30 minutes from the house. “I won’t be home until after 9:00, but I’ll take care of it.”
When I rolled into the driveway it was about 9:15. Millie was standing her ground in front of my headlights. Now, I know Millie, but she doesn’t really know me. When she visits my house to see Max, she barks at me in my own yard. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
I unlocked the front door by flashlight. I was being watched closely. Non-stop barking and snarling. I sat on the front porch trying to coax Millie to come to me. She was having none of that. I went inside the house to rummage through the kitchen in hopes of finding a dog treat. Right there on the counter was a jug of bacon bites.
Millie calmed down when she saw the bacon. She even came right up to me and snatched the bacon right out of my hand but ran back 30 feet. Swallowed it whole and commenced to barking at me again.
I had an idea. I left the front door wide open and got back in my truck. Millie stood quietly watching. The cab lights went out. I’m in the dark staring at her. She’s staring back at me like a statue. We’re having a canine-human stare down to see who flinches first.
Finally, she wheeled around and bolted for the door and went inside. “Good dog.”
But as soon as I got out of the truck, she rushed out of the house and resumed letting me know that I wasn’t welcomed in her yard. Foiled again.
So, I went back inside the house. It felt awkward to be wondering around a neighbor’s house by flashlight. I thought this must be what it feels like to be a robber. TV over in the corner. Unfamiliar shadows. China cabinet. Liquor cabinet. Does Millie like Jim Beam? I got another bacon treat.
Twenty-pound Millie was getting hoarse. She wasn’t changing her mind. She was hunkered down in protest. So, 170-pound sleepy-grey-haired-desperate-guy went out on the sidewalk and sat down holding out a bacon snack to a crazy animal having a panic attack.
Finally, her craving for bacon overcame her terror of me. She crept forward. The soothing power of bacon allowed me to scratch her ear. I pulled the bacon back. She moved closer. I rubbed her neck. She watched me like a bomb about to explode. Shoulders quivering. I slipped my hand under her collar, laid the bacon on the ground, and rubbed her ears with my other hand.
I stood slowly. With just a small tug on her collar, we both made it through the front door and into the house. Job complete.
When I got back to my truck, I had 14 unanswered text messages. Some of them about the dog. I texted Nancy, “Dog in house.” She texted back a picture of Superman, “You’re my hero.”
“Call me Clark,” I said.
That’s what neighbors are for.