When I was a little girl my parents bought this cute, little house & moved us all there in the summer of 1992. We were living in the kind of neighborhood that you don’t really think exists. The kind where the neighbors are friends & you have potlucks at the community swimming pool. Our house was the “Kool-Aid House” as my mom always called it because it was the gathering spot for all the neighborhood kids (with 5 kids, we had something not every family could offer, a kid for every age group.)
There were 6 houses on the street. We had been renting House #3 & they moved us right across the street to House #4. It had a creek in the backyard which has been the Grand Canyon, a hideout for cowboys & Indians, and the burial ground for all our pet fish.
Next door to us lived Tommy. He was a widower with the world’s greatest green thumb. He had this huge backyard with bridges, green houses, dog houses, & a basketball goal. And on his front porch were these beautiful wind chimes that you could hear from anywhere on the street.
The longer we lived there the more Tommy became a family member, like another grandfather. He let us roam in his backyard, he let us stomp on his plants, and swing from his bridges. He let us fish in his part of the creek & shoot hoops on his basketball goal. We treated his backyard like it was our own personal Sandlot.
Most evenings, Tommy would set up one of his fold out chairs & watch us play basketball in our driveway. I remember one time when he looked at my mom and said, “Man, they are getting big.” Until that moment, I never really knew just how much he was paying attention to us all.
Aging started to get the best of him, my mom started cooking him meals in the evening, & all us kids would fight over who got to take him his supper. Eventually, Tommy’s children moved him away to be closer to them because he had gotten to old to live on his own.
A realtor bought his home. She gutted it, but kept some things the same. She put up privacy fences & blocked off the backyard. With those fences came a realization that Tommy was really gone & that a piece of our childhood had left with him.
On the day his son was born (or maybe it was his son’s first birthday) he planted a Cherry Red Oak Tree in his front yard (today, this tree is enormous. I think it would take 3 or 4 people to wrap around it.) At one point, he built a sign & on it he carved the date he planted the tree & what kind it was. Thankfully the realtor never took it down and that helped lessen the sting of him being gone (and frankly, it helped us like this new person who was taking over Tommy’s house.)
Three years ago this month I got a phone call while I was out to dinner with Todd & his father. The phone call said that Tommy had passed away.
To this day, I pull up at my parents’ house, I think of Tommy. I look at his yard and see the sign that sits in front of his tree. I think of all the evenings he sat in his front yard watching us play basketball in our driveway. And sometimes, If I listen closely I can still hear a faint chiming coming from his front porch.