The funny thing is I call him my neighbour, even though we have long moved away. It reminds me that there is something special about being called a neighbour that we don’t accord to just anybody, and it has nothing to do with proximity.
I just heard that Jack is in the hospital. He is eighty-eight and not expected to make it. He fell and broke his hip, and now he has pneumonia. It all seems to be going south. He can’t have any visitors except immediate family, one at a time, and he is a bit out of his head. Jack is not having what you might call good times. It makes me really sad.
Jack might easily be called the “mayor” of our old neighbourhood. For whatever reason, we lived in an enclave that was special where everybody knew everybody else. We do not have such a deal now since we moved, we have hi-and-bye-in-the-driveway kind of neighbours. We see them but we do not know them.
I know Jack fairly well because I spent a lot of time with him in his garage. Mainly because he humoured my curiosity. I might be called the nosy neighbour – or maybe I just admired him. When we moved to the neighbourhood into a fixer-upper, he lived across the road. He was also recently retired, and although I was very busy working and dealing with small children, I saw Jack a lot. When my wife worked nursing shifts on the weekend and I had three small kids on my hands, I would wander over with the youngest tucked under my armpit to see what Jack was building.
Jack was a master craftsman. He had managed a few manufacturing kind of shops, and it was easy to see why. Jack was the go to guy. He knew what to do. He knew how best to proceed when you had something that needed fixing, and he would also lend tools. I remember Jack loaned me his sledgehammer when I broke up the concrete that housed the post for an unwanted basketball hoop on the side of our driveway. He stood and watched as I busted up the concrete, and when I broke his sledgehammer. I went to the hardware store and bought a new handle, and restored it to him whole. His manner was gruff, but I think he kind of accepted me after that. He never turned me away when I went to see him in the garage. He would answer my questions and when I tried to build things on my own, he would give me advice.
When I struggled with something, my wife would look at me and say “Well, go ask Jack!”. If he had times where he messed up, they were long gone. Jack was a marvel to behold because he would build flawlessly and very cleanly, no stray effort put to waste. He was remarkable because he also knew how to finish well. Although a garage is not the best place to finish furniture, Jack would vacuum the whole thing out and close the door and finish things the old fashioned way with urethane and quite a bit of patience. I saw him turn out toy chests, tables, desks, stands, and all manner of other furniture items for his daughter and son.
I remember the frustration of trying to hang and reframe a door on the side of my garage. Jack told me to hang the door first and to shim the housing of the door jamb to meet the door, rather than visa-versa. He saw me mess up a few jobs with a bad finish but he didn’t laugh at me, he only offered me advice. One day, my daughter asked me, “Aren’t you going to go and visit your Dad?” I was confused because my Dad lived in Calgary. What she meant, was my neighbour across the road. When she said Dad she meant Jack. Somehow that role had ensconced itself in her childish mind.
We had good neighbours on that block. We would attend each others’ occasions, and we got to know each other, and each others’ kids as well. It felt like a safe place to be. In some ways, we miss it and the kids all miss it even though we moved into a bigger and better house. It reminds me of that question from the Bible, “Who is my neighbour?”. The Pharisee asked it of Jesus, looking to dodge any obligation to his fellow man. I doubt he was the neighbourly sort.
And so I celebrate neighbours. I think of Jack, and what a good neighbour he was. A solid guy. I hope he gets his reward working on those mansions up over the hilltop in that land where we shall never grow old. I am happy that I know what a good neighbour is, because I have seen it demonstrated. You can’t make somebody be your neighbour. They either are, or they aren’t. You will know the difference, when someone chooses to be a neighbour and you are blessed. It reminds me just what an important thing it is to be one.
Jack died October 9, 2020. He will be greatly missed. Rest in peace my friend.