Matt Potter 12:30 p.m., Dec. 9
Barefoot one morning I waddled from room to room with my cell phone on speaker mode half-heartedly listening to a coworker vent on the other end of the line. The weather was hot and sticky making it difficult to concentrate. I had the garage door open and I could see out on to the cul de sac through the black, metal screen door that led from the kitchen. Still listening I walked in to the garage to get another round of water bottles to chill in the refrigerator. I stood near the driveway to catch a breeze that so graciously began to drift by. Just as it was my turn to speak something suddenly caught my attention.
"Oh my God!", I screamed almost dropping the phone. "My neighbor is lying on the ground across the street, i've got to go, I might need to call 911", was my abrupt hang up.
With no shoes on my feet I tried to run across the fiery black surface at full speed. It was difficult as I tried to avoid the tiny pebbles of asphalt that emerged from the cracks in the hot pavement . They were sprawled out like miniature land mines getting stuck between my toes. I thought of my neighbor Jack lying there helplessly in the glistening rays of the burning sun.
My husband and I got acquainted with Jack and his wife Pat soon after we moved into our new house in Spring Valley in 1993. We were first time home owners. My husband found our house while slowly driving up and down the streets of Carriage Hills looking for real estate signs. He made his way into the cul de sac the very morning the sign graced the front yard. We knew we wanted to live in the neighborhood that was surrounded by the empty hills at the base of San Miguel Mtn. We later learned that the hills would remain void of any additional homes as it was an animal preserve.
That first summer it was quite apparent how well the animals flourished in thier habitat. The white-faced screech owls made routine leaps into the darkness from the tall palm trees that can be seen from two blocks away.The cries and clamor of the coyotes was almost a nightly ritual and it wasn't long before our black chow chow with the purple tongue had a face to face encounter with a rattle snake in her water bowl.
One day Pat showed up with a jar of homemade jam she'd made from the berries grown in her own back yard. It wasn't long before we were friendly neighbors and began dog-sitting for one another. Jack was a simple man who loved to tinker around the house and build things. Pat warned me to be careful about what I threw in the trash. If Jack thought he could make something out of it he would add it to the growing pile of discarded items that stood waist-high on the side of his yard and in his garage.
In his collection was every tool you could think of. There wasn't a bare wall or piece of floor that didn't store some old treasure he'd dragged home to find an eventual use for. He had hundreds of golf clubs lined up along the walls from years earlier when he worked as a golf instructor. He taught my husband how to play golf and years later taught me how to golf with the one useful arm that I still had.
I had lost the use of my right arm in a childhood accident. As a result of Jacks patient instruction I can now single-handedly hit a golf ball over 100 yards off the tee to enjoy an occasional game of golf with my husband. But now here was the former golf instructor, this likable man, my neighbor who was in his early eighties lying curled up on our crumbling, old street possibly suffering.
As I was trying to run a UPS truck pulled in to the cul de sac and parked right behind Jacks silent body.Emphasis Thank goodness, I thought. I was afraid to face such a dire situation alone. As he parked his big, brown vehicle the regular driver who has frequented our Spring Valley neighborhood for years hopped out and headed toward Jacks front door with a package in his hands. I could not believe my eyes..Emphasis Jack was lying in a fetal position right in front of him, not moving, enduring a possible heart attack and all this guy could think about was dropping off his package first. I was angry and bewildered for a moment. I began to wonder if our fast-paced society was turning everyone cold and callous. I then reasoned that maybe he was going to get Pat to have her call 911.
I was confused. As I continued skimming over the prickly rocks that were now cutting my feet I finally made it to the man who'd been my favorite neighbor for the past fifteen years.
"Jack, Jack" I yelled out as I kneeled down next to his fragile body that was still curled up facing the curb. I put my one good hand on his shoulder prepared for the worst but hoping I would not have to perform mouth to mouth or pump his chest. That would have been awkward because I really did not know how to do either one. While trying to catch my breath I felt Jacks body move. He rolled back and turned his head as a soft breeze blew by and tousled his hominy white hair across his forehead. He gazed up at me from the ground with a surprised look on his face. At the same moment I noticed a short paint brush dripping with thick, black paint in his right hand and the numbers 10890 painted on the curb. Exhaling a gasp of relief I suddenly dropped to my knees. The UPS man was now heading back to his truck. The three of us looked at each other briefly frozen in time as we realized what had just happened.
"You thought I was dead, didn't you?" Jack began to howl in his hearty, contagious laughter.
We all started laughing in unison.
"I can't wait to tell Pat this one ", he said as he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes.
I now look across the cul de sac from my driveway with sadness in my heart as Jack and Pat no longer live in the little blue house with the bold, black numbers still painted on the sidewalk.
Pat who once meticulously tended her garden and exercised regularly began forgetting things. Some things were not so important but other things may have proved dangerous to herself or others. I no longer see Penny the gentle, lab-mix they rescued from the pound tied to thier motor home. She was happy just to be in Jacks presence while he puttered in the garage inventing some new gadget.
I miss Jack. I miss his infectious laughter and happy face. I miss waving across the cul de sac and yelling out "HI JACK", reminiscing when we were newly acquainted and he chuckled back, "Just don't yell that out on an airplane". I miss bringing him extra cookies and cake when I felt like baking. There was always too much left over for only my husband and I to eat. I never once saw Jack angry or in a bad mood and I never heard him say one negative word against anyone.
He was a good neighbor and a good man. Sadly, we never even got to say good bye.