Mr. Harrison, The Way Neighbors Used To Be

I wrote this many years ago. A reminder to me and to others as to what life was. And while there are many things from the past I could do without, there was a sense of community that I love to see to this day.

When I was a child we lived in a small rural community. My mother and father were always good at making friends and when we moved, this time was no different. My dad’s friends were frequently considerably different than my mother’s. My dad was an Army veteran who drank hard and worked hard. And a lot of his friends were similar. {{more}}

Mr. H was one of those friends. A neighbor named Brad. Brad was an older, overweight man who reminded me of a bulldog. His face was flabby. His blind eye was glass and it gave an unusual look to his face. He was a hard drinker but a very gentle man. My parents had hired his wife to be our babysitter. She was an overweight short hard woman who had immigrated here from Poland. (She used to yell at me in Polish.) What a couple they were! One of her husband’s favorite things to do was drop her off at Mass on Sunday morning at the Catholic church and then he worked his way down the street, stopping at all his friends would provide the beer and a shot. By the time Mass was over and he was ready to go pick her up he was pretty well drunk.

He would drive around our neighborhood at 20 miles an hour in a blue robin egg colored 1955 Chevrolet. (He also had a two-tone white dark blue one.) He would drive around with two little Chihuahuas in the car. The small brown one was named Poncho and a brown and white one named Tina.

I used to joke that they lived on a mini estate. They had a number of small outbuildings filled with things that he had collected over the years. One of them was his woodshop where he not only kept tools and wood but his beer supply in a refrigerator. He would go out there when no neighbors were around and he would drink to avoid the yelling of his wife. Other buildings contained toys, car parts and whatever else he collected while he worked for the power company. He also had some mean Bantam roosters that thought nothing of jumping in the air to scare or attack you.

I remember one day he stopped at our house and he popped open the trunk to show my mom and dad the eel he had pulled out of the turbines. It was probably 6 feet long, tainted with copper sulfate, as it had come out of the reservoir, and he was taking this burlap bag home with his eel for his wife to cook and make them dinner and pickled eel.

He was one of those neighbors that I could walk down the road to visit and he would let me come into his workshops or his cellar and he would show me all the inventions that he had created over the years. He had an old wooden cabinet radio where we would listen to shortwave from across the ocean or big band depending on his mood. His shop was lit up with old beer and alcohol signs. He did not smoke but many of the men that came to visit him did. Old calendars and postcards decorated the walls.

I look back on the time that I knew him and I am amazed at how much I remember not only of the man but also of his kindness. He was a quiet, benevolent man who would do anything to help a neighbor. Because of this, despite many family members being concerned about his drinking, most of the families would reciprocate and help them.

He taught me a lot about fishing and hunting. He showed me the best way to capture frogs and how to cook them. He taught me woodworking and the best way to use various kinds of power equipment. Even as I am recollecting some of the things he taught me over the years, I am also reminded of how sad a man he was. He was greatly concerned about his daughter and her child. Despite his wife’s yelling at him and fear of him going to hell because of his drinking he never failed to go to work even at 60 years old and provide for his family. I could sit there for hours and listen to the stories he would tell me of better times in his life.

It always made me aware that the choices we make in life are important and sometimes for a lifetime. I was never sure after I moved out of state what happened to him. I know that he passed away at some point. But I’m also quite sure that he made provision for the generation that was coming. He was just that kind of person.

If I learned one thing out of that man, it was to always look for the best in others.

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