Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Never Knew His Name

As we run here and there during this holiday season, we often find ourselves getting lost in the hustle and bustle. But as this story will demonstrate, it's not always the holidays that keep us busy, but rather just life in general.

How many times have you driven away from your home and wondered just who lives in that house three doors down? We often take the time to meet our next door neighbors, but beyond that, many of us do not know the families who live on our street.

Case in point happened to me sometime in 1987. I was in eighth grade. We just had a snow storm so there was no school that day. My brother and I with a few friends decided to go and offer to shovel some sidewalks. Most of our neighbors had already gotten a start on the job so the idea of paying someone to do it for them never crossed their mind.

We made it half way around the corner when we happened on a house with a large driveway. The man who lived there took one look at the children carrying shovels and called us over. He offered $20 to shovel the whole driveway. Each of us would receive $5.00. We were happy,he was happy; and so we began.

We seriously underestimated the size of the driveway. Turns out, the job took a couple of hours to finish. But once done, we received our $20, and our neighbor could now pull his pickup truck safely onto the road.

We took our new found riches down to the corner store where we invested in hot chocolate and some goodies. We didn't shovel another driveway that day.

Every now and again we would see the man driving his pickup down our street. We'd give a wave, he would give a nod. I never knew his name.

Now twenty some years later I return to my old neighborhood when visiting my parents. I've seen the man in the pickup truck (now replaced by a newer model, but still a pickup). Some time over the years we stopped waving. Maybe it was the years that passed between those short meetings. We both grew older, and didn't recognize each other any longer as the old man in the driveway or the child holding her shovel.

I received word the other day that there was a fire in my old neighborhood. Turns out the house belonged to the old man in the pickup. I drove by only to find what was left of the beautiful rancher that once sat around the corner from my home. Now covered in soot, most of the windows had be broken out by the firefighters. The man was working night shift when the fire broke out. His wife was not so lucky. From what I've gathered, she is still in the hospital being treated for smoke inhalation. The sight barely resembled what I remember that cold snowy day as me, my brother and our friends carved a path in the snow.

The world is a strange place. We hold our children so close, teaching them to fear strangers. Even our own neighbors take a back seat to our systems of protection, and the high fences we build around ourselves.

Take time this holiday season. Wave to a stranger. Meet a new neighbor. Or even better... shovel a driveway.

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