When you live in a house in the suburbs, you would think that it would be pretty boring. Sort of like Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. You have a friendly mail carrier, friendly neighbors coming by with flowers from their garden, friendly neighbors bringing by freshly baked pies. You have the ice cream truck playing music in the background, little kids laughing and blowing bubbles. The possibilities of a suburban utopia are endless.
Of course, you can also live in a neighborhood where everybody minds their own business and wouldn’t lend you a cup of sugar. I think where I live is somewhere in the middle. I often say that people are really nice when you are dying, dead, or on Purim. But further analysis is for another time.
Nineteen years ago, on a sunny day in March, we moved into our house. To one side, we had a neighbor, Louise, who was the original 1929 owner of her home. She had been engaged to a soldier who died in the war. It could have been the Civil War, because Louise was pretty old when we moved in, but more likely it was World War II. To the other side was a house that had a side yard that separated our properties. Mr. and Mrs. Haas lived in that house. They too, like Louise, could have been alive during the Civil War. Mr. Haas invited my very little boys over for bananas, and we would sit at his kitchen table and talk to him and his wife.
Unfortunately, one Thanksgiving, my boys watched Mrs. Haas being taken out of the home after she had passed away. Questions were asked and answered and life lessons were taught. Little did we know how many lessons were to be learned from our neighbors. Soon after Mrs. Haas passed away, Richard, their son, moved in. He turned the side yard into a vegetable garden/jungle. As the house deteriorated, we watched it turn into a zoo — deer, raccoons, possums. The kids loved it. Husband #1 loved that we didn’t have to pay an admission fee.
And then Mr. Haas joined his wife in the beautiful neighborhood in the sky, and Richard was left alone. He roamed his garden barefoot, because, as he had told me many, many times, “The ground is a natural exfoliant.” He started riding his bicycle because gas became too expensive for him, and he enjoyed playing basketball in the park. He had no children of his own, so he always was friendly to the kids in the neighborhood. My children learned what happens when you are allergic to ripe fruit, as he explained that to them in detail when he ate at our home. That is when they learned the phrase “TMI.” Too much information. But he meant well, and he was a nice man.
That brings us to nine years ago. It was a very, very hot and humid July 17. The smell of gas had been pretty intense by Richard’s house since the beginning of July. PSE&G had been called, workers came and investigated, and nothing was found to be wrong. On that particular day, I had gotten a bill in the mail, and since it smelled so strongly of gas outside I called them and they sent over some young kid. After an hour, he told me everything was fine. “But the smell is coming from my neighbor’s house,” I said. Their policy was not to knock on someone’s door, unless that someone called them himself. And the young man went back into his truck and drove off.
Four hours later, Richard’s house exploded.
I had been at the pool with son #3, which was a good thing for so many reasons. When I rushed home after receiving a phone call about what had happened, the firefighters were chopping down my front door and Richard’s house had fire coming out of everywhere. Never had I seen anything like it.
The police were asking me questions, and I asked if there was a second car in the driveway. Richard had a friend who had come to visit him that day. Fortunately, the friend had left before the explosion.
I was hoping that Richard was out riding his bike, but they found his body in the basement a few hours later. I write about him this week because he has no one else to remember him, and he was a good person, a good neighbor, and a really good son.
Hug the ones you love, remember the loved ones that you have lost, and appreciate the blessings that you have.
Banji Ganchrow will return to humor next week. Perhaps she will write about the joys of hot flashes…