Monday, June 9, 2014

On being a light, on being a neighbor

A light went out on our street a few years back, and no energy efficient bulb has been able to fix the resulting darkness. Our neighbor, Margaret, died.

By the simple act of buying a house a couple of decades ago, our lives were enriched more than we could have ever imagined. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, and our baby would have no close grandmother. Our neighbor, Margaret, took care of that, and stepped into the role with a flourish. Through the years, usually at least once a week, I found a grocery bag hanging on the back door. It might contain cookies, flowers plucked from her garden, or some trinket she thought we might like. Though the gifts varied, the message of kindness and concern remained constant. 

I found out we weren’t the only ones who’d been the beneficiaries of her love. She embraced a sting of neighbor children through the years up and down our street, some of them now adults. Her feisty, endearing ways made her a kid magnet. If I wondered where my children were, they’d be over at Margaret’s sipping cokes and trying to beat her at gin rummy. I don’t think they ever did.

There is so much more. Every week, she systematically bagged groceries which she took to a growing list of shut ins, many times anonymously. She did this well into her eighties. The entire time I knew her, she seemed to spend a lot of time thinking about whom she could help and how. Why did she do this?

Her late husband, Mell, who died a few years before her, emerged from the Pacific Theatre of World War II knowing the cost of living in a free country. “Mell says we have to give back,” Margaret often declared. So they did, in every way they could. Up until the year he died, we’d come back from vacation and often found he’d mowed our grass.

 People don’t think much about being a neighbor anymore. At least not like Margaret and Mell did.

At the little gathering at her graveside funeral, I looked around at the mostly graying heads attending and found myself asking the same question I’d asked when Mell died—who will take Margaret and Mell’s place? One tiny woman had left a very large hole. In one way, no one ever could. But in another way, those of us still here would have to continue her neighborly art. I’ve been a poor neighbor myself, using that terrible “busy” word as an excuse. But because of Margaret, I aimed to do better.

I’ve made a few attempts, but I don’t think I’ll ever match Margaret’s standard.

Another neighbor, Virginia, passed recently, and the day after her service, a friend, Karen, from down the street dropped by with homemade rolls and fig preserves. “In the spirit of Virginia,” she said entering our house holding high a mason jar of figs. In the spirit of Margaret, too, I thought to myself.

With indelible ink, Margaret and Mell are written into the stories of our family. Our children will tell their grandchildren  of these beloved neighbors. Nothing would make Margaret happier than to continue her legacy by filling grocery bags from our pantry or garden and make a few deliveries. We could meet the new neighbor who’s just moved in, or catch up with ones we haven’t seen in awhile. Like my neighbor Karen, we can do what a light bulb cannot by bringing a glow to someone's heart. We could change lives. We could change our community.
Maybe your neighborhood could use a little light as well.

Margaret, we still miss you at our house. And as a better neighbor than I once said, thanks for being our neighbor.

“. . . better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
Margaret with our daughter who was dressed to dance the Viennese Waltz a little later
Though Margaret is not a character my novel, Home to Currahee, she did inspire several scenes of neighborly kindness. See if you can spot them.



Anonymous said...

Beautiful remembrances, both this post and the one before about your grandparents. Love the pictures too. Thank you for reminding me that being a neighbor is more than just living next door to someone, it's sharing life with one another. You always bless my heart with your posts.

Beverly Varnado said...

Beth, I'm continually challenged by Margaret's example. Thanks for reading.

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