So... There is a teeny tiny lake outside of my town. And on this teeny tiny lake is our funky brown cabin. And beside our funky brown cabin on this teeny tiny lake, lived our quiet odd neighbor in his old and odder trailer. And in this quiet odd neighbor, who lived in his old and odder trailer, beat a very generous heart; but I didn't know it.
We bought our funky brown cabin when the kids were six and two. Our neighbor, I'll call him Tom, was quiet. He did weird things. He did not seem to have any friends or family. He washed his car a lot but did not seem to have anything else to do. He sat in a lawn chair on his deck in a skimpy pair of shorts and slept. He had a great tan. That is all I knew about him for about 8 years.
I would not let the kids play in the yard close to his trailer because I thought he might be... too odd...
One day, everything changed.
My husband John was struggling with an antenna on our roof. Remember the old TV antennas that resembled those old erector sets? When we turned on the TV in the living room, we had this little box hooked up to a small erector motor that turned the antenna in the right direction to catch the signal for the desired channel. (By the way, ours is still up on the cabin and functions and works about 17% of the time.) Well, on this particular day when John was wrestling with the antenna on the roof, Tom walked over and wondered if he could help.
Tom was smiling and talking and friendly and most importantly, helpful.
I quickly offered him a beer and he accepted. I had been painting a sample red color on the cabin to see if I liked it. So I asked him if he liked red and was this a good color to paint our brown cabin? He thought it was fine, finished his beer and left in a friendly manner.
He seemed normal, even though he had a great tan.
The next weekend rolled around and John took the kids up to the cabin on Saturday to mow and do the parental thing. I was field tripping with the choir in the little berg of Pisgah that evening. We sang at a church revival there and were nestled in beside the pool at the Pisgah Super 8, slurping up sodas, munching chips and whooping.
Imagine my surprise when John broke the news to me on the phone that Tom painted the entire cabin red!
He got into the garage and found the gallon of red paint and used one his brushes to paint the ENTIRE CABIN RED!
John hoped I would like it.
Are you kidding!!!! Of course I liked it! He did all that work! Without asking! Would I rather stand on a ladder in the sun and paint it myself?
I didn't think Tom was just normal anymore; I thought Tom was phenomenal!
From that time on, not only did he paint, but he would mow and get up on a ladder to clean our gutters. He power-washed the deck and stained the three picnic tables. He would sweep the deck when one trillion choke cherries fell in Sept. He shoveled the walks and driveway. We never asked him to do anything and it was always a surprise to see what he had accomplished while we were gone.
He would do all of this for a thank-you batch of cookies and my left-over cooking. He liked us and he liked to help. We liked him, too and were so grateful for all the work he did. He came over every time we were there. We were good friends.
He died in his sleep one night about 5 years after the initial painting incident. I think of him every time I drive past his odd old trailer. I hope I was a good friend to him. I'm sorry I didn't know him sooner. I'm embarrassed I thought poorly of him the first 8 years we lived beside him. I completely misjudged him.
I wonder... who else? Who else have I misjudged?
Thanks, Tom, for teaching me that people aren't always what they appear to be. Thanks for teaching me that sometimes an offer of a beer and some conversation means so much. Thanks for teaching me that everyone has a story. Thanks for teaching me to trust.
Lord, open my eyes to see those around me who need a bit of friendly. Are there neighbors to whom I should reach out? Odd folks who really aren't so odd if I got to know them?
Open my eyes. Open my heart. Guide me, oh Thou Great Jehovah...