Sow There!The middle of the neighborhood nest May 22. 2020

An overload of poppies in my yard can be linked back to the inspiration of my neighbor Bob, who may not have planted poppies, but allowed them to thrive year-after-year. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
May 22, 2020 at 3:30 a.m.

There’s been a surge of neighborly love in and around my tiny square of the planet. TCN (Totally Cool Neighbor) took a run to the dump. “Look around the yard,” he said, “and pile up anything you want to throw in the back of my truck.”

Words like that can make one jump into action, especially if several days have melted into one another, without any evidence of accomplishment. I could look around my yard each day for a week and overlook my mountain of mess. Yet, when your neighbor (or your mom) scans the area, suddenly piles of garbage come into clear focus.

I found broom handles, miscellaneous broken pots and bags of Bermuda grass.

With the help of TCN, we hoisted the heavy tailgate from an early-1990s Ford truck. The truck, long gone, had been the Handsome Woodsman’s final backyard project. It’s been 3 ½ years and he hasn’t returned for the tailgate. I hated to see that perfectly useful hunk of steel go into the landfill, so my neighbor said he would drop it off at the pick n’pull.

Hauling away my junk was above-and-beyond kindness.

Next, there was a problem with my car. I noticed that when I drove over a speed bump, I heard a terrible scraping sound, the kind of sound you would hear in a Terminator movie. Not good.

I rarely drive these days, so I finally crawled onto the concrete in my driveway to have a look. What I saw looked like twisted metal, aluminum to be more precise, which had folded back like the lid of an old-fashioned sardine can (the kind with the key). I was feeling like an action figure that day and thought I would get under the car with a crowbar. Soon I discovered the angle provided no torque.

The young buck who lives next door took a peek. Before I knew it, he had the car up on a jack and unbolted the mangled shield that protects important engine parts. Jordan banged that puppy back into shape with a mallet and bolted it back into place. All I could do was stand and offer encouragement, and the occasional pair of pliers. What was even more amazing was that zero curse words passed his lips during the hour and 10-minute car surgery.

Again, over-the-top kind.

I scrambled into the house to try to find some way to say thank you. Quietly, I handed his wife a $25 gift card for a chain restaurant, which was about the only thing of value I could find in my purse. We’re in Phase Two of emergence from the pandemic, maybe the restaurant is partially open.

With most of my neighbors standing around and others doing good deeds, another neighbor ventured into our neighborly love nest. Keith had news about Bob, who was my neighbor up until just a few years ago. Keith had read Bob’s name in the death notices, which caused us all to pause.

Bob owned the metal shop next door and was my “neighbor” for about 20 years. I never really knew what was in the shed, but I could frequently hear him tinkering. Once upon a time the sliding door was ajar, and I saw a metal fishing boat.

Occasionally, Bob would emerge with a weed-wacker, and more often, he emerged with something to talk about.

The shop may have been his man cave, because I only saw his wife once or twice, probably to drop off some important things, like dinner.

My neighbor had a booming and commanding voice. You might think he was gruff, but that was just the way he talked, the same way a German shepherd barks as if he means business. It didn’t take long to learn that Bob was quite soft on the inside. His directives invariably included good advice or — you guessed it — kind gestures.

“Go get a bowl,” he would yell in a way that made you immediately go inside the house to get a bowl.

When I would return, he had a white, five-gallon bucket of cherries which he scooped out with his huge hands. “Grab another bowl,” he might say, and I would do as I was told.

Over time, we built some trust and Bob let us pick from his apricot tree, but not too many, and never the fruit that was easy to pick. I recall the years when we dried so many apricots in the food dehydrator, I had to give bags of dried fruit to friends and family.

Sometimes we’d have long talks, the topics of which I do not recall, neighborhood things. Mostly, we watched out for each other.

And Bob kept a garden. At times he would grow seedlings in a make-shift greenhouse he crafted from the camper shell for a pickup. He grew vine vegetables. The poppies ran wild on a pile of gravel that never moved in 20 years. Those poppies were the inspiration for the poppy seeds I plant every year in the cracks in the alley.

Several years ago, the occasional banging from inside the shed grew less frequent, and then little at all. That final year that I knew him, Bob would come and sit in an old Adirondack chair, contemplating the sky, or even napping. We could tell he was slowing down. Heck, it had been 20 years and he was not a young man when we met.

When he had not been around for a while, we worried. Somehow, I had the phone number for his wife, and she confirmed he was slowing down.

It’s been years now, and the old metal shop was purchased by Totally Cool (new) Neighbor. I’m glad to have TNC in my life.

I never gave Bob a moniker, but he was the original Totally Cool Neighbor.

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