Family life

Love thy neighbour

A “for sale” sign is being posted next door to Tracy’s house, leaving her with some sad goodbyes.

By Tracy Chappell
Love thy neighbour

Photo by Transguyjay via Flickr.

I love our neighbourhood. It’s got a small-town feel with old beautiful trees and long-time residents. And while we don’t know everyone on our street, we are friendly with several of the families who live around us — one special couple in particular.
Bea and Pat are our closest neighbours — we share a driveway, and all the observations and conversations that go along with that. They’re an Italian couple in their seventies, with two grown daughters who stop by with their families for Sunday dinners. They’ve lived here since the houses were first built and told us, when we first moved in, that we were going to love it, too.
Bea is a petite, brisk woman who almost always wears a housedress and famously keeps a pair of flip-flops outside her back door for her frequent sprints around the property — taking out the garbage, tending the garden, watering the driveway. Except in the cold of winter, she has laundry on the line every single day. She has a booming, efficient, no-nonsense way about her. Avery is half-terrified of her because she’s so loud, but she loves to wave at Bea from behind the safety of our screen door. Bea is our street’s busybody (I say that with utmost affection), so I never worry about anything concerning our home. She knows every movement on the street. One day I forgot to close my side door when I went out and she told me afterwards, “Don’t you worry, I kept an eye on it the whole time you were gone!”
We moved in about five years ago, just before Anna turned two. Pat loved having a little one to help him water the garden and would give her a trowel to dig with. That first summer, Beatrice started handing things from her basement over the fence “for Annie” (she has always called Anna Annie) — a children’s rocking chair, a Nemo sprinkler, a Curious George stuffie. She scoffed at me whenever I thanked her. She doesn’t believe in saying “thanks” because neighbours just do these things for each other, she told me. And added a warning: “Neighbours are neighbours. They’re always there for you, but be careful of getting too friendly because if there’s a problem, there’s nowhere to hide.”
So, even though I invite them to the girls’ birthday parties every year, they politely decline. Bea always slips me a gift for them (something beautiful from The Bay and always, somehow, the perfect size) and we always send over some birthday cake for them to enjoy. The girls will run over muffins when we’re baking, and special treats at Christmas. Bea brings me baskets of tomatoes from her garden and sometimes even leftover pizza. We shovel their part of the driveway; they get our mail when we’re away.
So, they’re not exactly like family, they’re like… neighbours. The best kind. Pat and Bea are on the front porch waving to the girls on their first days of school and wishing them luck at hockey or gymnastics class. They watched the progress as the girls learned to walk and run, ride bikes and jump rope. I remember Anna’s first day of kindergarten. I had successfully kissed her goodbye and walked home without a tear. But as I turned into the driveway, Bea stuck her head out of the door and asked how it went. The floodgates opened.
They also share a special part of Avery’s birthday. Each Labour Day weekend, Bea, Pat and several family members make fresh tomato sauce in their backyard. A truck drops off bushels of ripe tomatoes, machinery is brought in, jars and buckets travel from house to backyard. They start about 5:00 a.m., so the year Avery was born, their whole family was there to send us off as we headed to the hospital. Now, each year, their smooshing and spicing and jarring of tomatoes seems part and parcel of Avery’s birthday weekend.
All of this is about to end. Yesterday, Bea came over to tearfully tell us that they’ve found a place for Pat in a nursing home and that they will be putting their house up for sale. It’s not a complete surprise. Pat’s health has been failing quite rapidly in the last two years and, as much as Bea stubbornly insisted she would care for him and they would both live out their days in that house, caring for Pat has taken a huge physical and emotional toll on her. We have had enough heart-wrenching conversations about it that I’m relieved that this is happening. But it also breaks my heart. It’s hard to imagine opening my door and not seeing them. The hundreds of little moments we’ve shared aren’t the kinds of things you jot down in your diary or share with your friends over dinner, but they have been woven into the fabric of our lives. Even our own home won’t feel quite the same without these two lovely people decorating the outskirts.
But, like the people who inhabit them, neighbourhoods grow and change, and we can only embrace the evolution and hope that the whisper (or holler, in this case) of those who built the foundation will somehow remain. A new family will come to live beside us, which feels so bizarre. Life goes on, I know, but we will never forget Bea and Pat.

Photo by Transguyjay via Flickr.

This article was originally published on Jan 21, 2013

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