“Now that we have neighbors we like, we should paint the house.” It has been a refrain in our household for the last two years. It is a bit inaccurate; on one side of us, we used to have a lovely little old lady that we liked very much, but her eyesight was so bad she probably couldn’t see across the open field to our house. In the last two years, the houses on each side of us have become the new homes of two of the most wonderful and unexpected households. In short, we won the neighbor jackpot.
Now, I fully admit that some of the blame rests squarely with us: Jock is an inventor and the house we live in looks like a mad scientist’s retreat in a bad B-movie. It takes a lot of forbearance to live next door to us—especially last Saturday. Our new neighbors in the little old lady’s house were making dinner when their kitchen was filled with red flashing lights. The paramedics were parked in their lot between the two houses. The neighbors from the other side of us had a perfectly lovely Saturday afternoon derailed when I knocked on the door and asked if they could come help lift Jock: he had fallen and I couldn’t lift him. Without batting an eye they both came. She is a nurse and I was so, so grateful to have a medical professional walking in the door.
Ten minutes earlier I was at work on a dreary Saturday afternoon and was waiting on customers at the bookstore when my phone rang. “I have fallen,” Jock said matter of factly. “I’m afraid I can’t get up.”
He dropped me off at the bookstore that morning. I had no transport. I grabbed my purse, dropped my phone and ran toward the door while asking Elise to loan me her car. Without asking a single question, she threw me her keys and directed me to her parking space.
“You are going to have to break down the door!” Jock called from the other side of the door, which was locked with a hook and eye. He has been repairing termite damage slowly in our home for the last several months and in an effort to control the mess is part and parcel of that work, and keep the dogs away from it, he had set up a system of locked doors.
“No, I don’t. A-ha!”
I slipped a Sawzall blade between the door and the frame popping the latch. Jock was draped half over a ladder and half on a 5-gallon bucket. “Sweetheart, what happened?” I asked and touched his forehead. I tried to get an arm under his arm.
“I think we need to call 9-1-1.”
“No, I’m fine,” he insisted. He just wanted me to get the neighbors to help get him to a standing position. Really, he was fine.
The real-life Indiana Jones was laying a section of sub-floor to repair an area damaged by termites. He stepped backward onto a part of the floor and it gave way beneath him.
Only one leg fell through the hole, up to the hip. He hauled himself out of the hole, grabbed the aforementioned 5-gallon bucket to put under his chest to support his weight and, using his arms, hauled himself 5 feet across the floor to the ladder to try to pull himself to a standing position.
His body locked and seized at that point—and refused to do anything else. He finally decided to call for help.
Thank all the gods for our neighbors. Our next-door neighbor nurse walked in and asked me to get a blanket. Within minutes, she and her husband got Jock to a lying down position while I talked with 9-1-1. He headed outside to flag-down the ambulance to bring them around the side of the house (we all agreed there was no way to get Jock moved on a stretcher through the maze of our house). He got the deck and ramp cleared of the assortment of tools, buckets of debris, and stacked-up lumber that is the detritus of any repair project.
When I headed out in the truck to meet Jock at the emergency room, they even took Elise her car.
Later in the ER, two smiling faces popped around the curtain. He was dropping her off at work for the evening, and they came by to check on us. “Yeah, you’re probably going to be on my floor tonight,” she commented.
When the nurse and tech walked in with shears to cut off Jock’s coveralls and additional layers of clothing, our neighbors departed with a couple of good jokes to ease the tension. The lovely young nurse had the task of emptying Jock’s pockets while they shredded his clothing. I don’t think she was quite prepared for the parade of items Jock considers essential to daily living: bolts, washers, screws, nails, nuts, coffee stir sticks (for mixing epoxy), Sharpies, pencils, random dollar bills, receipts, etc. Toward the end, she held up, between both hands, a cream-colored cube of plastic, with slots on three sides and metal prongs sticking out of one end. “What is it?” she asked in a quiet and bewildered voice.
“Oh, that’s a cube tap; Jock is never without one,” I explained while I deposited it into my purse next to his cell phone. “You plug the prongs in the wall, and it makes one outlet into three outlets.”
“For power tools,” Jock added. “What are you going to do when you need two drills and an angle grinder?”
Hours later, when we finally got to a room, there was our nurse neighbor with a big smile to greet us and help move Jock into a bed. He had snapped the top off his femur, and made the ball and socket joint in his hip no longer operable. Moving him at all was a delicate process that produced enormous surges of pain. It took four people to get him settled. But the pain meds were taking effect, and when they tried to get him into traction, he attempted to organize a knot-tying workshop, pointing out such skills were not just valuable in nursing but also boating and movie lighting. Frankly, the knots they were using were not what he would recommend. “What ever happened to an old-fashioned square knot or a granny?” he queried.
The next morning, when I arrived at the hospital, a picture of our neighbor’s dog was on Jock’s tray. The two guys have coffee together every Sunday morning. Since Jock couldn’t walk across the yard, he brought coffee and a picture of cuddly dog to Jock.
Later in the evening, our neighbor who was putting dinner in the oven when the ambulance arrived in her yard, brought dinner to the hospital to share with us. Jock was delirious from the assortment of medication, but he was not in pain. While he attempted to explain to them about the six stand-up comedians at the ATM, who were closing the account in his hip, they nodded and went along with the story. They commented how happy they were to see Jock feeling so good.
They asked repeatedly if we needed anything.
“No, this is the easy part,” I gestured to the bed. “The hard part is in two weeks, when he’s home and feeling better, and wants to climb a ladder.”
The thing is, we are not really great neighbors. We are the people HOAs are designed for to protect others. We are a mess; Jock and I are both so preoccupied with the assortment of projects that dominate our lives, neither of us are very good at doing home upkeep or advance planning that would be essential in a planned community. Somehow, in spite of it all, at the moment we needed them most, the most lovely people imaginable looked past all our foibles and saved the day.
There is no way to properly thank our neighbors for putting up with us, but we promise, we will paint the house, as soon as Jock is recovered.