Editor’s note: We found this in the WordPress drafts folder, dated 2015. Since everyone likes a good story, we’re posting it today. Every once in a while we have to remind ourselves why we’re doing the work to make our Village a reality. Enjoy the read!
A street, here in the Charlottesville area, is quite short. Five houses, all built in the 1960s, in which three of the five houses have welcomed their second generation of owners during the last decade. The other two houses continue to be occupied by their original owners. In one of those two houses lives a widow whose children live nearby. She’s in her middle 70s, and her children are most attentive.
In the other of those two houses lives a retired man, in his late 70’s. He has no children, no family, and his wife requires assisted living care because of her dementia. Sam, as we will call him, cared for his wife in their home as long as he could, and recognized the point at which her needs exceeded his ability to provide for her. He continues to visit her multiple times each week, and feels that the money he pays for her care is well worth it.
Sam has a long history in this neighborhood. He remembers when the five families on the street would get together, and help each other out as needed. Sam still mows his neighbor’s lawn with his riding mower. He’s seemed a little reluctant to welcome the new neighbors, and even more reluctant to acknowledge that he has any limitations.
But last fall, his neighbors noticed that Sam was having difficulties. He’d push his trash toter out to the curb, and lean over it for several minutes to catch his breath. He’d return from visiting his wife, and it would take him five or more minutes to climb the four stairs to his front door, because he’d have to rest after each step.
One of his newer neighbors began to express concern to him. She’d see see him parking his car as he returned from visiting his wife, and say to him, “I’m worried about you! You look like you are having trouble walking up your stairs”, or “You shouldn’t have to lean over your trash toter to catch your breath. Something must be wrong.”
And Sam would say “I’m okay. I know my heart is a hunk of trash that is held together with wires.” So his neighbor, Abby, started to engage him in conversation. She asked him more about his heart, and Sam told her about his coronary bypass surgery. He told her who his cardiologist was, and about his next scheduled appointment, three months away.
Meanwhile, another neighbor who was one of those original owners who moved in during the 1960’s, Donna, was talking to the widow, Debbie, and told her how concerned she was about Sam. Together, Donna and Debbie told Abby that they didn’t think Sam was safe at home. So Abby, having learned the name of Sam’s cardiologist, called the cardiologist’s office. She left a message, saying “I’m a neighbor of Sam’s. He’s told me that you are his cardiologist, and there are several of us neighbors who have seen and remarked upon Sam’s difficulty getting his trash toter out to the curb, and his difficulties getting into and out of his house. He’s told us that you are his cardiologist, and we think he needs to be seen immediately, not in three months. Could you please call him in for an appointment? This week?”
Two days later, Abby looked out of her window, and saw that Donna across the street, was helping Sam into her car. When Donna returned, she told Abby that Sam had showed up at her house, asking for a ride to his cardiologist’s appointment. He told Donna that he knew he couldn’t drive to the appointment, so he’d called for a taxi and the taxi hadn’t shown up. She agreed to drive him, and when she returned, she told Abby, “They’re going to admit him to the hospital,” she said, “But I’m going away for a few days. Can you pick him up if he’s discharged while I’m gone?” Abby said she would.
That evening, Abby called Sam at the hospital. When she identified herself to Sam, he said, “You know, you saved my life. My doctor told me that someone had called and asked him to call me in for an appointment because that person was worried about me, and it turns out, that I was having shortness of breath because of a lot of fluid built up. But I don’t even know you. I mean, I’ve met you. But why should you care about me?”
Abby replied, “You are my neighbor, and neighbors help each other.”
When my sister and I were growing up, moms did not, as a rule, work outside the home. My mother was bored silly staying at home by herself, once we began school. She found a job as an educational docent at a local museum, where she worked in the natural history section taking school groups on tours. The only problem with this was that we came home from school for lunch.
There was a family on our street comprised of a woman and her six children. Her husband was in the military and away for long periods of time, and money was an issue for them. My parents arranged for Mrs. G to provide a hot lunch for us each school day, and in so doing provided a little extra money for that family.
Many years later, my parents were the “older couple” on their street. Mom took the family dog out for a walk twice a day. The dog had turned out to be larger than expected, and one day, as 78-year old Mom was walking the youthful and energetic dog, the dog lunged for a squirrel, causing Mom to fall down and be dragged several feet down the street.
A neighbor witnessed this, and the neighbor’s first action was to get both home and get Mom cleaned up. Her second action was to appear at the door every afternoon for as long as the dog lived there, and take the dog for a walk. The neighbor knew how much Mom loved her dog, and how unsafe it would have been for Mom to continue those daily walks.
These two images formed my concept of “neighbor”– people who lived in relationship to each other, on a variety of levels, and who found ways to help each other in ways that made life a little easier and more complete for each other.
My favorite aunt had lived in New York City for fifty years. She loved New York, especially the theater and dance that were available there. In her youth, she’d been incredibly generous, inviting me to spend weekends with her. My first theater experience was a performance of My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison and Julie Andews on stage, and from age 8 on, I was her frequent guest.
As my aunt reached age 75, she began to have difficulties in her New York apartment: access to groceries meant a trek across a very busy, multi-lane street. Managing her apartment became more of a challenge. So she made the decision to move to a retirement community that offered the full range of care milieus– independent or assisted living, and nursing home care.
At first, independent living worked out well. She made many new friends, and volunteered in the local schools. She took advantage of the community outings for theater and ballet and museums. She hosted afternoon teas in her apartment.