The lawn mower is silent. There is no clanging of a hammer as it beats against a machine, or nail, or tree. Palm fronds have fallen unceremoniously to the ground during the brisk March gusts and lay there yet as April comes into being with a promise of a hot summer.
For the past three and a half years I have heard those sounds almost daily, but recently the often irritating noises gave way to silence and I learned why on a sunny Friday afternoon.
The Williston Pioneer’s back door, over-the-fence neighbor, Flavius Horace Jerrel, died at the age of 86 on March 17.
For those past three and a half years, I have often taken my breaks from the office on the slab we call a back porch.
Usually I make a personal phone call, or check Facebook or play Solitaire on my cell phone but more often than not, I chatted with Mr. Jerrel.
He’d come to the fence and start a conversation about the weather, the political clime of the city or the stray cat that wanders our block. I’d meander down the embankment from the slab to be closer because he was hard of hearing.
We never got into anything personal, except the one time he asked me what “my man” did for work.
It was idle chit-chat–two people passing time over a fence.
He liked to mow. He’d start that mower up two or three times in a day sometimes, mowing until he was tired and then resting until he was ready to tackle the yard again.
He actually came into the office one day to see how I was because he hadn’t seen me out back for a while. I explained I’d been on vacation and the answer satisfied him as he left.
Once I saw him get in his car, circle the block and pull back into his driveway. When I told Chris I was concerned, he said he probably just wanted to keep the battery charged.
When I saw a lot of cars in the driveway that Friday, I told Chris something was “wrong with my little old man.”
When people began emerging from the house dressed in black, I knew he had died, so I came back, did a property search for that address and discovered it was Flavius Horace Jerrel.
You see, in three and a half years, I never knew his name. I talked to him at least once a week, sometimes more, and never ever asked his name.
It is one of those things I have pondered on now for almost a month–why I never bothered to ask who he was, about his life.
It was only through his obituary–the same one I had read and edited the day before without any idea who I was reading about–that I gleaned insight into who he was and the life he had led.
I missed a great opportunity to learn about another human being and I failed. Badly.
I am ashamed.
Why is it we shelter ourselves away from people, especially ones we could reach out and connect with?
I don’t have a real answer. Disinterest. Time. Selfishness, perhaps.
There’s something wrong though we would could be better people by extending a hand of friendship, asking a simple question and listening when someone talks.
I never knew Mr. Jerrel by name. It is my loss.
But I’ll always remember him, our nothing talks, the friendly wave as he passed by on his mower.
It’s going to be a quiet summer without him.
Contact Carolyn Ten Broeck at firstname.lastname@example.org