I reluctantly went out the back door and walked slowly toward the garage in search of some scrap wood from which to fashion a sign announcing that our home of the last 18 years was “FOR SALE BY OWNER”.
I had salvaged the wood from a barn-red picnic table a neighbor had thrown out many years earlier. I loved the color, and it was free, so, naturally, being an ex-New York “Dumpster-Diver”, I dragged it home and it was in our backyard for a few years until it had fallen apart a second time and had rotted to just beyond my ability to repair it, and thus became just a few old boards in my garage.
I located two that seemed long enough for what I had in mind, which was to build a scaffolding from which to hang a FOR SALE sign.
By coincidence, the nice family who has lived in the house across the street from us for the past ten years, were now selling their house and moving, but not to a one bedroom apartment, but to an even larger house in an even nicer part of town.
Roger is a young man on his way up, and as I thought of him and his seemingly bright future, I tried hard not to think of myself as an old man on the way out, which is what I suspected I must look like, based on the pitiful look on the face of a passing teenager speeding by me in a red car, as I worked.
Having never built this type of sign before, I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper with which to make a rudimentary design before doing any cutting. “Measure twice and cut once” I remember an old man telling me once when I lived in New York. Good advice, especially since I only had two old boards and I wasn’t sure if they were going to be long enough.
I looked over at the neighbor’s sign across the street and tried to make mine look like his.
I measured the length of the horizontal arm from which the sign would hang and estimated the height of the vertical piece which would be driven into the ground to support it. I cut one end into a point using a saw in my basement which had belonged to my great grandfather who had been a cavalryman in the Civil War. I went inside and got an aluminum ladder from behind the door in the laundry room and stood on it, and, using the sledgehammer that I had inherited from my father, I pounded that former slat of a picnic bench till it was about a foot deep in the ground in the center of our front yard.
In the end, though, the sign of the neighbor across the street suggested the signpost of a pub on some stately street in 18th Century Philadelphia, while mine suggested nothing so much as a gallows– or even worse, a pistol pointing at my house. Painting it white helped a little, but not much.
My next-door neighbor of the last 18 years watched all this from his yard for thirty minutes or so, as he was blowing leaves, but said nothing.
Our relationship had gotten off to a bad start the day I moved in in 1997. It had been raining for the previous three days and the ground was very wet. The rear wheel of our moving truck ran over a corner of his grass next to my driveway and left a terrible impression on his grass and an even worse one on the trajectory of our relationship. Our friendship over the years can be described as cordial at best– and though he has never come right out and told me so–he is far too nice of a guy to do that– I have always suspected that he secretly thought of me as some kind of nut, when he thought of me at all.
But, I have no doubt that when we say our last goodbye, it will be on good terms. All in all, he has been a pretty good sport considering what it must be like to live next door to a guy like me–one who rakes his leaves only when the last one has fallen and mows his grass only when it makes it absolutely necessary in order to gain entrance to one’s abode.
Over the last couple of decades, my wife and I have enjoyed living in this neighborhood. We have watched neighbors who have become friends come and go. We have had their children in our house and in our yard and our children have played in their yards and eaten dinner in their houses. Some neighbors you get along with great– and others you just get along with until eventually you– or they– just get along.
My intention is to buy this neighbor who I suspect thinks I’m “nuts” a bottle of champagne, which I fully hope that he and his lovely wife, will crack open and drink a toast in celebration of the minute my car backs out my driveway, rolls down the hill and turns right and I disappear from their lives forever and become nothing more to them than a fading memory or a passing topic of conversation during televison commercials.
I’m counting on that bottle of champagne to make it all better– to heal old wounds. “Champagne has powers of healing”, my Mother once told me.
I sure hope so.
On second thought, I’d better make it a case.