comings and goings
any minute now, the big rumbling moving van will lurch to the curb out front. a flock of muscled men will emerge, the ramp will be erected at a certain angle, and all day long a flurry of boxes and arms and legs and the contents of a life long lived will parade from house to deep dark truck interior, and back again for more.
by day’s end the house will be boxed into cardboard containers, slapped with tape, labeled. it will be hollowed of all but the fading echo of years spent raising boys, three boys, each now a father living far away, soccer cleats and bicycles long emptied from the garage. the tinkling of forks and knives, from all those family dinners, all those dinner parties, silenced. the flickering of candles i watched as recently as last night, snuffed out.
the next door neighbors, after forty-some years, are moving. and in the flow of life, the rhythm of comings and goings, each exit leaves a dent. a carved-out hole. a dimming and a darkness.
while, for the past 14 years, we’ve mostly flowed side-by-side, not been the sort of neighbors where we dash and ring the bell, borrow a cup of sugar here, a splash of merlot there, love grows anyway. the sight of him, bent and shuffling slowly in the yard, puttering with his tomato plants, stooping down to haul away a branch after storms have tossed the trees. the sound of her, warbling in the early morning, when the screens were in the windows, and the windows open, as she warmed her cords, her lungs, her voice, for the church choir, or the swing concert, or just the show tune of the hour. it will all be gone now. moved three miles north, out of sight and out of ear shot. hardly out of heart.
their presence, one i always likened to knowing someone sturdy was pressed against my shoulder, was most days felt when darkness came, and the lights in their kitchen, or the glassed-in study just beyond the picket fence, or those flickering candles at the dining room table, glowed golden against the twilight, against the cloak of night.
there’s a broad-winged window in our dining room, one i see out of the corner of my eye when i’m at the cookstove. i am often at the cookstove toward the end of day, at dinner time, at put-away-the-day time. and that soft burning light through the window panes, through the bramble of bushes, it whispered from next door: we’re home. life is flowing inside our house, too.
i admit to a lifelong imagination animated by the doings inside houses all along the lane, any lane anywhere. i spend time considering the animation of each and every house, of the hours and the duties that bind us, make us more in common than apart. even looking down from clouds, when i fly from here to there, i spy the little towns, especially, and see the lights inside the itty-bitty boxes of the houses, and i wonder who’s inside, who’s stirring sauce at the stove, who’s just getting a phone call that will change everything, who’s all alone.
with the house next door, i didn’t have to imagine too, too much. i knew the players. had come to love the players. over time, you learn things, peel back the stories, allow the bond to build — the new year’s ladies lunch she always hosted; the time we went together to the tracks, put down dollar bills on the horse he assured would win; the day we moved here nearly 14 years ago when she came to the door with a tinfoil-domed platter of the best chocolate chip cookies anyone ate that day, and she looked me in the eye, said, “i think we’ve a lot in common,” and it would be awhile till i realized what she meant was that she, too, was irish catholic, married long ago to a brilliant jewish fellow; they’d trod this interfaith path long before i’d even met the man i would love and marry.
she told me, after years of back and forth at the invisible line that divides our yards out back, about the time her little brother ran in front of the car, and died. right before her eyes. she told me how she up and packed three boys, left behind the house she loved, and moved to england for a time, when her husband was a rising executive and the boss said, “move!”
over time, you learn the heart aches, divine the heroism, the everyday grit that muscles some of us forward, that some days topples others of us. over time, you come to count on the quiet rhythms from the house next door. you learn their ways. how, as soon as the air outside warms to, oh, 78, the air conditioners will begin to hum. and how, come sunday morning, the singer’s warmups will punctuate the chatter of the birds.
over time, their story seeps into yours. you’ve watched her boys come home on weekends to mow the lawn, you’ve watched them marry, and just last night you watched her youngest rock his newborn baby girl to sleep.
life passes while we’re watching. which is why it matters so very much to keep close watch. which is why the practice of paying attention brings riches — and countless wisdoms — to our soul. which is how and why we fall in love, day after day, with those who fill our hours with the hum of their every day.
when we’re watching closely, we get peeks at the human spirit exposed. even when it’s by simple accident of geography that we’re entwined through the light and shadow cast on all the passing hours. when what’s drawn us into each other’s close orbit is the single-digit difference in the address that we call home.
until the big van comes, and we’re left looking into darkness next door.
what are the quiet rhythms of your everyday that you’ve come to count on? who are the ones whose lives have slowly softly seeped into yours, by virtue of geography or habit, the ones whose lives you know through occasional encounters rather than uninterrupted unspoolings, whose presence over time adds up to someone you count on in your own quiet way? what peeks at heroism have you gleaned from those who pass you by on a regular basis?
and mickey and alicia, we send you off with love. much love….
Oh, bam… so very beautifully said! So hard. We will feel just this same way when our neighbors to the north move at some point. Sweet, dear people. How he honks the car horn in the morning so she will hurry. How she brings the most delicate lacey cookies at Christmas. Ahhh, neighbors. Thank God for the good ones!!
i love that we all have stories of our next door loves……and i love that here at the table, over all these years, we too feel like a neighborhood. a big-hearted, tender-souled neighborhood….xoxo
Such a heartache to bid farewell to dear neighbors… I agree that as the years roll by, we grow familiar with our neighbors’ stories, with their comings and goings… They become a part of what makes home feel like home. It twists the heart to see a darkened house where bright windows once gleamed. Here on our little court, we’ve lost six dear old neighbors -three sets of them, husband and wife – to old age. One by one, they’ve died, and new neighbors have moved in to replace them. I realize I could write an entire blog post about our dear neighbors – so many stories and memories… Such a poignant post, this. Blessings to Alicia and Mickey in their new home. And may someone extra-special move in next door! xxoo
it’s such an interesting connection — all by accident, but over time, it grows particularly entwined. and when you’re really blessed, it’s deep. so often, they’re the ones you rush to, when life tumbles swiftly, or when, at the last minute, you realize there’s no purple onion, the one you needed for your salad. last night, in an adorable twist, my next doors dialed me up to ask if they could please borrow two spoons and soy sauce. everything was boxed, and they were savoring a last supper of carry-in chinese on the back patio, sitting on old fold-out lawn chairs. just the two of them. the sound of their laughter and their conversation till after darkness came simply warmed me through and through. it was such a testament to long marriage, deep family. i couldn’t help imagining all the stories they were telling as they savored their very last night in the house where they raised all their boys. what a wallop. what a blessing. xoxoxo
Lovely. I’ve often said that good neighbors are worth their weight in gold. I remember back in 2001 when the big moving van brought all of our earthy goods from the white hot heat of the Valley of the Sun to the much cooler high desert pines of Prescott. We hugged, cried and waved goodbye to our friends and next door neighbors we’d lived beside for 23 years. Leaving the house was easy, leaving them was hard. Hoping the new neighbors discover the wonderful folks who live in the house next door. Here’s to old, and new friends. xoxo
high desert pines…..that phrase soothes me. somehow i didn’t realize you’d only lived “up high” for the last 15 years. that big ol’ truck is there right now. and oh my heart is gulping back tears…..xoxox
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I love this. Thanks for the reminder to love my neighbors! Did you show this to them? 🙂
dear emily, i mentioned to them that i’d posted a love note, but in the whirl of their moving they’ve not had a chance to see. when i spoke to one of them this morning, she told me they still haven’t unpacked the computer…..but, trust me, it will be done…..
I love this. Every single word. I too imagine the stories inside the houses, especially at night when the lights are on. As a kid, I used to sneak out on summer nights and eavesdrop on conversations coming through open windows all over the neighborhood. Your writing is something for me to study. Thank you, BAM, for putting these thoughts to paper.
oh, dear regan, welcome to the table! thrilled to find that you’re here at this table where soulfulness is cherished. windows at night are a beautiful thing…..especially in summer……
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