Monday, October 10, 2011

Too Late?

I'll call him J.  He lives across the street from us.  

When we first moved into our neighborhood about 22 years ago, he was the most feared man in the subdivision.  All the neighbors kept their distance.  The people going door to door, whether religious groups or charities asking for money, were met with cold indifference at best, and if they pushed their luck, open hostility.  He was a crusty, volatile, profane curmudgeon and people avoided having any dealings with him. Occasionally he and his wife would fight and half our street knew it.  

We stayed away too.  For three years, we avoided him like the plague.  

Then one day our daughter, three years old and playing outside, ventured into our unlocked car, and managed to close the door.  Inside the vehicle, she happily pushed buttons and turned dials on the console.  Unknown to her, her movements loosened the standard stick shift and put the car in Neutral.  It started to roll back, picking up speed as it went toward the street.  

Thankfully, no cars were coming.  Our car rolled across the road with her inside, and tipped backwards into the ditch, coming to rest with a rather jolting thud in J's lawn, front wheels pointed toward the jet trails in the summer sky, the car at a 45 degree angle. 

Our daughter was physically fine, if frightened.  We had seen the car going and couldn't catch up with it - so checked her immediately.  Once we had assured ourselves of her safety, the next sound we heard was something that sounded like a "harumph."  Uh-oh.  J was striding toward us, clenching and unclenching his fists.  This wasn't going to be pretty.  

He must have ranted for about two minutes.  It was the most bizarre scene - a man about 38 years old, bowing his head meekly while a man ten years his senior and ten inches shorter than he was reamed him out on the front lawn with a car beside them pointed like a rocket launcher.  

"... and you'll *&*# put that grass back the way it was!" he finished.

"Yes sir, I will," my hubby told him, and apologized for the damage.  

The tow truck came and removed the car from the ditch, and we pulled a plug of sod from the tailpipe.  There was a large dent in J's lawn; the grass had been rolled back like parchment.  Over the next two days, hubby brought in topsoil, replaced as much sod as he could, and seeded around it with grass seed.  In the end, it looked better and smoother than it did before the car struck it.  

From that point onward, J's opinion of us did an abrupt 180º turn; he became our best advocate.  He'd wave to us - even chat when shoveling show or during breaks when mowing the lawn.  He'd come over if we were doing lawn work.  A couple of times we looked out to see him mowing part of our lawn and never once did he ask for repayment.  Once in a while, after a fight with his wife, he'd come chat for a while - the smell of whiskey on him.  He loved hard; he fought hard; he smoked hard; he drank hard.  Yet there was something special about him.  Beneath that crusty exterior there was a man who knew what he wanted and usually wasn't afraid to face issues - and people - head on.  But he was fiercely loyal and respectful to his friends.

One time - probably about 10 years ago - he and my husband were having another of their chats.  I'm not exactly sure how the topic came up, but hubby told J that he was a Christian.  His eyes narrowed.  "Ohh.  You're one of THEM."  That is all he ever said about it.  

A few weeks ago, after having sold his car, J revealed in one of his visits (much to our surprise and dismay) that he had cancer of the throat.  It had taken a while for his doctors to diagnose it, and by the time they did, he was given a one in four chance of survival.  "Ach," he blustered.  "We all gotta die sometime." 

We felt like someone had kicked the wind right out of us at his news. We feared that it was too late for him - or for us - to talk about the really important stuff, stuff that people don't usually talk about until faced with the very real possibility of death.  We secretly wondered if it was too late to talk about those things now.

They talked for a while longer when J finally said, right out of the blue, "You play checkers?"  Hubby nodded.  "Then don't be surprised if I set up the board sometime and come getcha."  

Well, well.  Maybe it's not too late to show him some love and appreciation.

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