My children have always been drawn to neighbors- all strangers, really, but they feel a stronger claim on people who live close enough to fall into the category of “neighbor”. Unfortunately, in an rv park, neighbors are not very static. They move on to the next job, the next seasonal hot spot, or the next adventure. Luckily, my kids are always up for a rebound with the new neighbors who are pulling in, hopeful that the new trailer will be jam-packed with kids, like ours. That is not usually the case, though. Their next preference is for a cute pet, which is much more likely. But if they can’t have short and loud or cute and fuzzy, they find something interesting about anyone who pulls in next door.
We’ve had many interesting neighbors already. There was a nice couple who shared their fifth-wheel with two bulldogs, one of them a new puppy, who quickly became an object of my kids’ affection. There was also Ms. Willie, who was sweet but not the biggest attraction on the block-or the row…until the day she pulled out her 4 or 5 storage bins of seashells she had collected on dozens of different Florida beaches. Shortly after we had to leave our neighbors with the Bulldogs, all became right in the world again when our new neighbors led their pet pig out the door of their motor coach.
One evening, not long after a move to a new park, the kids were riding their bikes while I chatted with a neighbor who was eagerly sharing all of the gossip about our “row”. He pointed out a green park model, one of only a handful in a sea of motor coaches, travel trailers, and fifth wheels. “That guy who lives there is blind,” he said, “but I’ve never seen him outside.” As he waved his hand across the darkening sky he added, “He never turns any lights on, so don’t get worried if the house is dark and you hear noises. Sometimes he even runs a skill saw.”
The blind man, the blind man, the blind man, was all Nora Ruth could talk about! She wondered what he looked like. She wondered what his eyes looked like. She wondered if he was all alone. She wondered if he could talk. She wondered if he had a family. She wondered what he did all day. She wondered why we had never seen him. She wondered if he ever came outside. And finally, she wondered if we should go knock on his door. I wondered about his skill saw.
I am a determinedly-independent person; some times it is a strength and others it is my Achilles heel. I love people and I enjoy being around other people but I feel like knocking on someone’s door, let alone asking for a favor, is an imposition. And maybe I’ll have to concede that I am a bit shy, as well, because all of this “neighborliness” makes me uncomfortable, definitely more so than it seems to affect any of my kids! Nora Ruth couldn’t be more different. I jokingly call her “nosy” and laugh at her fascination with other people and their business. But there is more than nosiness at work there; she is bighearted, compassionate, interested, and she loves a story.
Well, I knew that we had no reason, other than Nora Ruth’s curiosity, to knock on the blind man’s door, so it was with assuredness that I told her “No way”. But one night after Sunday School she came running to tell me that her class had made Christmas gifts containing a cookie and a Christmas message to be given to a friend, another member of the congregation, or a neighbor, “and I really want to give mine to the blind man, Mom.” I don’t want to squelch all of those good qualities I mentioned earlier, but I do want to temper them with, I don’t know, maybe a little of “mind your own business”. As she looked at me pleadingly, the best I could do was a, “Let me think about it,” and I was definitely not going to think about it very hard. After the third time she sought me out to ask whether or not I had “thought about it yet,” I actually began putting a little brain power to it in order to devise a reason not to go. When there were no excuses that left me feeling like a respectable adult, I thought about enlisting my mom for this hand-holding, door-knocking job. She is, in fact, the family member that I hold responsible for NR’s “curiosity” and conviviality. Finally, I had to concede that there was no way out; we were going to see the blind man.
The next morning, bright and early, she’s asking when, when, when and of course the other two are thrilled about our field trip and they are paying close attention to the marching orders that are coming hard and fast from the eldest. She is going to carry the cookies, she might knock on the door…no, maybe Mama will. Allie should only say “hey” but she could also say, “Merry Christmas”, when we leave. No one need utter the word, “blind”. I had to laugh at her competence, but I was truly nervous about how this encounter would compare to my children’s expectations. I had agreed, so it was time to banish my fear that we were about to barge in on a cranky recluse who would come to the door brandishing his saw.
At 11:00 a.m. we knocked on the blind man’s door, and we all took a few steps back. When he didn’t answer within the three seconds that is the extent of my children’s patience, they began a very florid conversation about….him. Anxiously I “shushed” them, explaining that when a person is lacking one of their senses, the other senses often compensate but this new abstraction was too intriguing and revealing it had the opposite effect. It was like watching the starting gates at the racetrack spring open and the dogs, intent on the lure, dash off into oblivion.
When he finally opened the door, interrupting their conversation about whether or not he could hear their every word, they were all three too dumbfounded to even say “hello”, so of course I had to do most of the talking. I suppose I was the one who needed the lesson in civility and neighborliness, anyway. He accepted the cookies gratefully, then tried to pay us (I think my benevolent, “neighborly” offspring would have accepted the cash if I hadn’t been standing there), and asked where we lived. We talked, just briefly, about the kids, their names, their ages, and each them finally piped up to say, “hello”. He spoke with an accent that was not easy to understand so, as we were walking home, NR asked, “Mama, what did he say?“, and I realized that the kids had barely understood a word of our brief conversation! “He said you’re a bunch of nosy kids. And he can’t see you, but he can hear every word you say,” I told her. “Oh, and he said it was sweet of me to think of bringing him those cookies.”