For those of you who read this post (the rest- you need to read it first) I have a very sad update. This neighbor, who so gallantly rose to the occasion and changed his ways and melted his icy heart and became our good friend after 25 years of not speaking to me , told me the other day that he was moving- that his wife is not happy up on Red Mountain where we live and never has been for 25 years. And he began to cry- actually three different times while we talked , he cried, which is just phenomenal when I think about our wounded relationship in the last 25 years and al we COULD HAVE been enjoying. And I said, “Oh no, just when we finally got you back!”
So last night we had a going away dinner party for he and his wife and I swore to him that he was going to be invited up for saunas, to brew beer, for cook-outs. We did not have to let this neighborly friendship die, after waiting a quarter of a century for it to change. Advice for all of us- DON’T WAIT to do something- to reach out to someone we need to connect with. Decades fly by before we know it and precious time is lost forever.
Twenty years ago, we were out working our organic garden with bald baby Sierra in her little car seat. Suddenly, we were distracted from our work by the drone of a low flying plane that appeared to be spraying herbicide over the forest. A gypsy moth infestation had caused some land owners to spray poison in an attempt to control the insects’ voracious appetites.
I learned one of our neighbor’s had ordered the spray and told the pilot that he had our approval, which is mandatory since there is an over spray of many hundreds of feet.. He did not, of course. He lied about it because he knew we would not approve. When I inquired from my neighbor why he did this and told him that we did not appreciate it, he said he will do whatever he wants with his land and proceeded to not speak to me for nearly 20 years. We live pretty secluded up here on Red Mountain and it’s a little disconcerting to think we could get in trouble, or have our house burglarized or any of a bunch of things occur and not feel comfortable that our “neighbor” would be there for us. It was a creepy feeling for many years.
I worked for all those years to get him to come around. I beeped my horn to him every time I saw him, waved and yelled hello any chance I could. He usually pretended he didn’t see me. He was very good at avoiding me.
But finally one winter a few years ago, things turned around. His father died, he injured himself badly (which probably softened him) and then we got the Snowstorm from Hell. A tree fell on our electrical wire at the end of the driveway, putting the two of us out of power for close to a week in the dead of winter. We have a wood heat stove, a gas cook stove, a ton of candles, oil lamps and headlamps, plus the ability to live without creature comforts from all our years of backpacking and so we were hardly inconvenienced. In fact, it made us write in our journals, go to bed with the sun and rise with the sun- a much saner, closer-to-the-earth rhythm. But I stopped by his home to tell him that we would give him our kerosene heater as they had electric heat and if that wasn’t enough, they could gladly come and stay with us. This did not seem like a big deal to me but it must have melted the rest of the ice that had formed around his heart.
He wrote me a thank you note which shocked me and then began to speak to us, make small talk, wave, etc. Todd was cautious. I embraced him. The next summer, I thought it was time for a neighborhood cook out and Todd dreaded it. It had been 20 year since our neighbor was back to our house, since we were building. The “neighbors’ dinner” (3 families of couples) became a regular seasonal gathering, but Todd was still not convinced. But the neighbor and I were getting more and more friendly and I invited them all over for a spring sauna. Todd was mortified. Naked in the dark with a neighbor who hated our guts for 20 years? But he came, loved it, and has become a regular. Our neighbor needs to be commended for being so brave.
Then I decided that the three male neighbors should brew beer together, as they all expressed an interest in this activity in the past. Todd was not thrilled to have to be host so many times. Over the course of a few months, our neighbor came here 6X, to taste test, brew, bottle, taste again, etc. He picked our house to brew because he said our home is the most comfortable, interesting and fun…all compliments.
I love my neighbor. We hug when we see one another now and tease each other and he is my good friend. He shakes Todd’s hand when they greet and I think sometimes they even hug too, which is so huge for two German men.
It took 20 years and a lot of coaxing but both men finally came around. I am just so glad it happened. I don’t know if we have 20 more years of enjoying one another’s neighborly company, but I am happy for even the last two. In a situation like this, it takes as long as it takes. I was not willing to neither quit, nor take no for an answer. Now I feel like anything could happen, and my neighbor would be there for me, as it is should be. I was always there for him, he just didn’t know that or believe it until that Snowstorm From Heaven.
Posted in: Life's Moments and Lessons