Social media really isn’t fun anymore, is it? I see far more people casting dispersions at each other rather than just enjoying how easy it is to see glimpses of each others’ lives in real time. Somehow, we’ve forgotten one simple truth–nobody is perfect. Yet, there is goodness in every person. Some people’s goodness might be harder to see than others, but I promise it’s there…
In my late twenties, my husband and I bought our first home. We had two children, our youngest and only daughter being around two at the time. The home we purchased came with a neighbor directly to the north of us, an elderly couple–a very Italian elderly couple.
Ted, the husband, was extremely vocal about his displeasure at seeing this young couple with kids move in next to him. Besides his blunt choice of words, he had a gruff tone whenever I heard him speak. My initial instincts labeled this man as someone ornery, and someone I should avoid as much as possible. However, my two-year-old daughter didn’t share my same instinct.
While outside helping my oldest son learn to ride a bike without training wheels in the quiet Cal-de-Sac, my daughter tottled over to Ted’s garage. He always had the garage door up, sitting on an old couch and reading. Of course, my focus was elsewhere so I missed her initial move into enemy territory.
I heard Ted’s gruff voice say, “What do you want, little girl?” and I just about died. I hustled up his driveway, an apology ready on my lips. I found her sitting on the couch beside Ted.
She whined when I tried to pull her away. “Read,” she said. She loved to be read to and had noticed the newspaper in Ted’s hands.
“I can read to her,” Ted told me in his gruff voice.
“Oh, I don’t want to trouble you.”
“You’re not,” he said. “I’ve nothing else to do.”
He sounded so angry, but I worried that declining his offer would only make our strained neighbor relationship worse. I let her stay, but believe you me, I stayed right in front his house, my eyes more on my daughter than my son riding the bike that day. He never offered to hold her on his lap, he just started reading aloud. His harsh tone was so clipped and factual I couldn’t understand why my daughter was so enamored, but she sat there for at least fifteen minutes before wandering back over to our lawn.
And so began my change of heart…
Every morning before school began, my daughter insisted on walking over to Ted’s garage to say hello before we walked her brother to the elementary school. Sometimes those hellos took seconds, sometimes I had to remind her that we needed to get to school on time. He was always there on that couch, responding to whatever babble my two-year-old wanted to share. One day she decided to pick some of the silk flowers in the pots in front of his house to give to him.
“Don’t pick those,” he said, rising to put them back. He pointed to the other neighbor’s house next him. “See those yellow flowers in the grass? You can pick those, you’ll be doing Virgil a favor.” And my daughter did, giving him dandelion bouquets on many occasions. He always took them.
Over the almost five years we owned that home, Ted did many kind things for our family. He took my trash can out to the street when I forgot to sometimes and knocked on my front door when I sometimes left my garage door up.
“You don’t want somebody stealing you blind.”
However, the man’s tone and manner never changed. He was prickly and had an opinion about everything, even the slightly less pink color I once painted the house. (It’s a Las Vegas thing, they love pink houses down there.) But by focusing on his actions, I realized this man, though outwardly he was one hard nut, he wasn’t all bad. And when my husband lost his job in 2008 and we had to short-sell the house, Ted was one of the last people I spoke to before leaving what I had wanted to be my forever home.
“Would it be all right if I hugged your daughter?”
I chuckled at his request and happily agreed. At now six, my daughter was just as sad at the prospect of leaving her elderly friend. I don’t know what he said to her, he’d somehow managed to make that gruff voice of his whisper. My daughter nodded and got back in our vehicle.
“It’s a damn shame, really,” he told me, shaking his head. “You and your family weren’t so bad after all.”
His words made me smile despite my welling tears. “And neither were you.”
I will always miss that ornery man and the goodness inside him. I’m thankful my daughter managed to breakdown those barriers of judgement we had both cast. Not getting to know Ted would have been a missed opportunity for me.