When we first moved in next-door to Harvey, I thought he was a busybody. Upon unpacking our moving truck, he came over immediately. I felt like he was scoping us out, sizing us up to see how much of a nuisance we would be.
“You got a whole lot of children there.” He said in a sweet Southern drawl.
I was certain he would be over often to complain about the noise levels or toys left outside. I soon learned that I was way off about Harvey.
In those first weeks, I noticed Harvey around town nearly every day. I soon learned he was a staple in our neighborhood. When I would take the kids to our community park and chit-chat with the other moms, upon learning what street we lived on they would say, “Oh, you must live by the old guy.”
Harvey can be seen sweeping up our shared alley, collecting cans from the neighbor's trash, or watering his flowers with the rain water he collects in big white buckets. Every Wednesday evening he rolls out all 12 of the garbage cans belonging to our alley’s residences to the street for the following morning’s pick-up. Bright and early the next day he rolls them back to their rightful places. He repeats the process on Friday with our recyclables. He takes care of all of us. When his grandson briefly moved in with him, he stopped me on my way out more than once to apologize for his grandson's loud music or boisterous friends.
One afternoon while sitting on our back porch, teaching my daughter the fine art of hula hooping, I complained about the over abundance of oranges on our other neighbor's tree.
“Why don’t they ever pick them? It’s such a waste” I thought out loud.
The next afternoon I found one of Harvey’s buckets filled to the rim with oranges outside our front gate.
Harvey’s wife, Rosie, has Alzheimers. She is petite woman with soft lines running through her face. I used to see them walking together through the winding sidewalks of our neighborhood. He holds her frail elbow in the palm of his hand and guides her through our tree lined streets. She always has a pale blue scarf tied neatly over her head. She smiles whenever she sees my daughter. Her face crumples up like paper as if her wrinkles have their own story to tell. There is tenderness about her. I have a feeling she was full of life at one point. Even now with her memories lost she is captivating.
When my dad died, Harvey was the first to acknowledge it.
“I heard about your dad. I am sorry. Death is a hard thing.” He told me.
He spread the word to all of our neighbors. Normally I would be annoyed but not by Harvey. He didn’t do it in a gossiping way. He did it because he cares. Harvey doesn’t come from of a world of cell phones and internet. He comes from a place of potlucks and block parties, an era where neighbors walked into each other's homes without knocking.
The other day while I was rushing out the door with the kids hoping to get them to school in time, Harvey stopped me in the drive.
“What’s up Harvey?” I asked him trying my best to conceal my annoyance over being stopped when I was in a rush.
“I had to put Rosie in a nursing home last Sunday,” he said “I can’t manage to care for her on my own anymore” He looked down and I could see tears in his eyes
I hugged him. He turned and walked back down the alley. I could tell he was crying.
The next night I brought Harvey over dinner. I could see his outline through the window. He was sitting in a brown chair; the only lights on in his home were coming from the TV. Standing on his dimly lit porch I could feel the weight of his loneliness.
When I handed him the plate of food, he broke down.
“Thank you” he whispered.
The next morning, while rushing out the door, I saw two beautiful potted plants on my window sill, courtesy of Harvey. That afternoon he stopped me in the alley to thank me. I asked if he wanted to join us for dinner the following Saturday. He agreed as long as he could bring over some pizza.
On Saturday, after 4 years of being neighbors, we will finally eat together. I am looking forward to being the kind of neighbor Harvey can borrow an egg from.