The evening started out simple enough, me, getting the coals ready for yet another night of barbecue, my kid, kicking the soccer ball around the backyard with one of the neighborhood kids. Dinner was to be nothing special, a little grilled chicken and beef shish kabob with some green pepper and onions, some corn on the cob, a juice concoction for the youngen’ and a couple of cold beers for me to take some of the steam out of the night.
In my neck of the woods, it’s also not unusual to have thunderstorms blow in during the early part of the evening and last night proved to be no disappointment. Around 6:30, the skies darkened, the wind picked up and before long, huge raindrops began falling from the sky. The lightning flashed and the thunder echoed throughout the city. Naturally, I called the kids inside and we sat on the porch and watched the storm blow through.
The storms that pass through usually don’t last all that long, maybe a half an hour at best. After they’re done, the kids usually gather outside to have “boat” races with old Popsicle sticks in the run-off that gushes down the street. Some of the parents also come outside to try and chat the night the night away and discuss the storm and other matters of neighborhood importance.
After about twenty minutes or so, a car pulled up. It was the Meals on Wheels folks making their nightly rounds to the elderly and infirmed. They stopped across the street from my place, directly in front of Floyd’s house. The spend about five minutes dropping off their food and making small talk before they go on their way. By that time, my kid had already resumed her perch across me from on the porch.
She started me asking me questions about what they were doing. I told her about the Meals on Wheels program, about how it was meant to feed people that have trouble making it out on their own or who have nobody such as family and friends to help take care of them. We got to talking about Floyd…
Floyd is an older gentlemen in a younger neighborhood. He’s gotta be pushing 80 and is a decorated World War II veteran. He’s got a couple of kids who come by every weekend and spend maybe an hour cutting his grass and dropping off a small bagful of groceries. They don’t seem too pleased about it and hardly talk to any of the other neighbors. Rumor has it they’re just waiting for Floyd to kick off so that they can sell the house and divide the carcass. His wife has long since died. When Floyd comes out to sit on his porch, it looks as if every move that he makes will be his last. There’s pain etched across his face and sometimes I swear I can hear his bones creaking as he plops down in his chair. As a matter of fact, I’ve only seen Floyd venture off his porch maybe once or twice in the last year or so. He does this just to start his car, a relic from the mid 80’s that hasn’t moved from its appointed spot in front of his house in over a year.
We got talking about how Floyd must spend his day. How, in a way, he is a prisoner of his own home. To his left, his neighbors have two kids that are always out and about, playing games, laughing and crying and in general, making kid noises. He never complains when they romp his across porch or use his yard as a shortcut to get where they’re going. To his right, there’s a couple of younger kids that are roommates. They always seem to be having visitors that stay for a couple of days. When that happens, you can hear the laughter from their porch from across the street. They have a dog that wanders the neighborhood and is friends with just about everybody. Every now and then, the dog will bark announcing the arrival of new guests. Floyd never complains about the barking dog or the laughter that goes on late into the night. Directly across the street from Floyd is me, always playing music or firing up the barbecue filling the neighborhood with the aroma of summer. Floyd usually gives a gentle wave and I give a silent one in return. I wonder what those sounds and sights and smells mean to Floyd. I’m guessing it’s the sounds of life, life going on without him.
As my kid and I kept talking, we began to wonder what life was like inside Floyd’s house. With nothing but the television or radio to keep you company, with nobody but the mailman or the Wheels on Meals people to come by and spend five minute with you, we guessed that it must be lonely. We surmised that his phone didn’t ring that often and when it did it was probably either a wrong number or a sales pitch.
After awhile, it got real quiet on my porch. I watched as the tears welled up in my daughters eyes and she came over and sat on my lap. She said she felt sorry for Floyd. She said she should talk to him when he sits outside so that he has somebody to tell his stories to. She said she could always play with her friends anytime that she wanted and that Floyd needed a friend.
I don’t know what I felt but I believe it was a mixture of pride in the sensitivity that my kid was showing and shame on my part in the fact that I should’ve done that very same thing a long time ago. After a couple of minutes, the tears subsided. We switched the subject over to something we’re greatly looking forward to and made our plans. After awhile, it was bedtime and the subject of Floyd came up as I was tucking her in. I told her we would try and be better neighbors when we got back. The usual bedtime sentiments were exchanged, the lights extinguished and I wandered back to the porch to have a last cold one before I decided to call it a night.
I got to thinking, I sure hope Floyd likes homemade cookies, barbecue and a cold beer every now and then. He deserves better, we all do…