There’s no doubt we are in a season of change and loss. The first change this year was our long-time neighbour moving to BC. I blogged about the house going up for sale here. And then our neighbour on the other side, Alvena, passed away in August. Not sure how much a night on our futon contributed to her demise. Her house sits empty, awaiting the executor to do all the things that executors are required to do before the house can be sold. Apparently the second floor was totally taken over by squirrels and mice. I’m not sure if the squirrels kept to one side and the mice the other, or if they were all living together in some seedy backyard common-law arrangement, but whoever buys that house has their work cut out for them.
The more recent change came a day or so after we got back from our Calgary trip. Our neighbours, Don and Jean across the back, took in our mail for us while we were away and Don shambled over to hand me my bundle of bills and pizza ads. “We also just wanted to let you know that Jean and I are moving,” he said to me, almost as an after-thought. I was stunned. Don and Jean have been a constant fixture ever since we moved into the neighbourhood nine years ago. Our kitchen table window looks out onto the back of their house and of all our neighbours, we are the closest to them. Don had been sick this past winter and he said they had been thinking about moving for about a year. “It’s hard,” he said to me, “You know, because Jean doesn’t drive and I don’t cook, so if either of us ends up in the hospital we’re in real trouble”. They’ve decided to move into a retirement home that will better meet their needs. It’s the right and responsible move, of course, but I still hate it.
Don and Jean moved into their house in 1965, but the house goes back in their family even further. Don’s dad had the house built in 1942 and lived their until Don and Jean moved back from Pittsburgh. Don went down to Pittsburgh to get his Master’s in Social Work and that’s where he met Jean. Jean had been married previously and had two young sons at the time. Don went on and adopted them and raised them as his own. Don and Jean never had any children of their own. I should also mention that Don and Jean, both now in their 80s, are a mixed-race couple, something that was less common in the 1960’s. So much so that according to Alvena, before Don and Jean moved onto the street, Don’s Mom went door to door to every neighbour “warning” them that Don had married a “black girl” and that they would just have to get used to it.
Don and Jean were/are the perfect neighbours, in my opinion. They kept to themselves, but they were always there if we needed anything and it was just a comfort to know they were back there, an extra set of eyes when we weren’t around. Their house has a little screened in gazebo on the back, and I could never really tell if they were sitting out there when I would pull into our parking pad at night. I would reflexively wave to them whether I knew they were there or not, and that sort of became a little “thing” between me and them.
Twice a year, I climb up on a rickety ladder to clean the leaves out from our gutters. The first year I did this, Don came running across the back lane. “You’re ladder’s not tall enough, you’re making me nervous!” and he insisted on me borrowing his tall one. It’s sort of become a tradition to have Don come out and offer his ladder in the Spring and Fall. Another tradition is for me to try to clean out the gutters at times when I think Don and Jean are not watching, because my rickety ladder works just fine thank you.
Jean was the “watchful eyes” on the block, like Mother-Sister from “Do the Right Thing”. One time our friend Rob came by to show off his new Vespa. I wasn’t home, but that didn’t stop Rob from getting Marla out to sit on it and give it a spin up and down the back lane. “Oh, LORDY, Don. Come see this. Marla’s buying herself a scooter!” Luckily we straightened it all out.
My wife confided in Don and Jean when we were going through the adoption process, and we found out that Jean served on a number of boards related to child and family services in our province, and gave us advice about how to manoeuvre the confusing and sometimes contradictory adoption channels. When our daughter’s adoption was finalized, we felt at least some of the credit was owed to Jean for her help and encouragement along the way.
In the past year or two, Audrey and Don and Jean have become fast friends. Audrey is always wanting to go over and visit with “DonJean” as she calls them. When we found out last year that Don was going into the hospital for cancer treatments, Audrey insisted that we take her over to their house so that she could give him one of her stuffed dinosaurs. Pretty thoughtful for a 2 and a half year old. Don took that dinosaur to every chemo session.
Sometimes in the summer, Don and Jean would come over for something with Audrey. “We’re not staying!” Jean would shout from the fence, but after a little encouragement we could get them to sit down for a cup of tea and a visit. Sometimes the visits would happen in their gazebo too.
When I broke the news about the move to Marla, she didn’t take it well. “Usually I’m okay with change, but I’m having a hard time with this one,” she told me the other day. We even briefly considered putting an offer in on their house ourselves. It isn’t much bigger than ours, but it has a few nice little touches (newer kitchen, finished basement, garage, second bathroom, and that cute little gazebo) that would be improvements. But the fact is we aren’t in any position, financially or emotionally, to take on a move right now. Plus, we have a few things we’d need to do to our house before it was “ready to go”, as it were.
Don and Jean hired professional “de-clutterers” to come in a few days before the house was listed. “After 47 years, you collect a lot of junk,” Don told me. He said those de-clutterers were in and out in one day, taking with them 47 years worth of memories. “They even took a book I was halfway through. Now I’ll never know how it ends.” Don’s sense of humour. One of the things I love about him.
So the house went up for sale last weekend, and we resented every person we saw walking through it. All forty of them. Irrational and childish, I know, but STILL.
The “SOLD” sign went up a day or two later. Today, Marla was talking to Don and found out what happened.
“You’ll never guess what happened to the house!” Don said with a gleam in his eye. “Our granddaughter bought it!” Apparently Don and Jean’s granddaughter was coming by the house to look at the piano with her boyfriend. The boyfriend really liked the look of the house and phoned Don and Jean a couple of days later to say that they were going to put an offer in, but no pressure. They didn’t want any preferential treatment, but they didn’t want them to be startled when they say their names come through. As it turned out, the granddaughter’s offer was the highest and Don and Jean accepted. The house stays in the family, and it makes Marla and I feel better that even if we did put an offer in, Don and Jean would understandably have chosen family over us anyway. I think Marla feels a little better about the move now, and I’m looking forward to keeping connected to Don and Jean through their granddaughter.
Don’s take on it? “That sure was an expensive piano for my granddaughter!”