The other night, with nothing better to do, I started looking for the fellow who lived next door to me many years ago. It was our first home and where all of our children first called home, in Huntsville, Alabama. A small house in a well-established neighborhood with a big yard, room enough for a nice sized garden.

Honestly, it would have been just fine with me to stay there. But jobs and life sometimes necessitate moving and going on to bigger and better things – at least we think they do at the time.

It is often the people around us, who make us love our neighborhoods and jobs – at least that is my opinion. When I first moved into that nice little brick rancher in Huntsville, the neighbors warned me about “Pete,” who lived right next door, directly to the left if I were looking out the front door.

It wasn’t anything bad, it was just that Pete liked to help. What some folks think of as nosey, some of us think of as folks caring about us.

I must have lived there about eight years, I try to do the math and figure out when my last child was born and his not having a bedroom, etc. It really doesn’t matter.

What I do remember is that Pete, who wanted my children to call him, “PaPa Pete” was always there to help. I never had to worry about taking my trash can to the curb when it pickup day – Pete did it. If his lawnmower was running and I hadn’t cut my grass yet – Pete did it. Home sick? Pete walked right in the front door to check on us.

It never stopped… Needed to leave a child or two at home to run an errand? Never fear, Pete was there to watch them and entertain them. He loved our first dog and always was there to rescue us from the snakes in the grass and in the garden. However, he would not let you think about killing the snakes – because they had a purpose.

He would have been in his late 70’s at that time, the mid to late 1990’s. Every morning in the summer, he rode his bike to the community pool and swam laps.

Reading his obituary, I found that he passed away just a few months ago. Honestly, it made me appreciate him even more. The obituary noted, “He was always the one to find a silver lining. And typical of those men from the ‘greatest generation,’ he never complained, avoided doctors like the plague, and left our presence his way, quickly and at home.”

I learned that he had retired at 55 years old, was a pack rat and always bought American. He preached that idea to me on many an afternoon.

Often in his front yard, looking up at the eagle right above the door. He taught me what that eagle meant – “It was paid for.” The write-up also noted, “We are all richer for knowing this man. Never have we seen someone handle and accept growing old so gracefully, yet so young at heart.”

That got me… because it was true. Some folks are always worried about people who want to help them, thinking that those offering to help want something in return or have some ulterior motive. Honestly, I think genuinely wanting to help others probably does extend our lives, and gives a good reason to keep going.

And the blackberries… Pete had a fence full of blackberries that he always wanted to share with us (as long as we didn’t bother the snakes).

Someday, I will see Pete again and when it’s time to go, I hope I am worthy to travel in the way he got to go – “Quickly and at home.”

Help your neighbors, be a good friend, you might live a little longer…

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