Our Sears Catalog House, after a LOT of work.

Believe it or not, I lived in the same neighborhood for over 20 years. While I had different houses that I rehabbed before moving on, they were all within a few blocks of each other. Two were my favorites, both as homes in themselves and more importantly for the friends and neighbors who made them home. Yes, I still did a lot of travelling in those years. The difference between then and now is that now I don’t have to worry about house-sitters, cat-sitters, maintenance issues and all the rest of it while I’m gone.

Two of these neighbors were particularly memorable. They were part of the neighborhood’s old guard when I moved there, wondering about us new kids on the block. Along with most of the old-timers who’d been in the neighborhood for years, they’ve moved on to another dimension.

Marvin was a good ol’ boy. When Tom Dawson and I bought the Sears Catalog duplex that had been a rental unit in his family for years – across the fenceline from his back yard – he was naturally curious. He was a nice enough guy, retired from the Corps of Engineers, but a bit reticent when he saw us begin to remodel the place. To put it politely, he had a tendency to overbuild things so they would never break or fall down, using whatever materials he happened to have handy. They may or may not have met accepted building practices of any particular time, or today’s building codes. Opening up a wall to repair or replace something was always an adventure. Fortunately he didn’t live long enough to see all the things we did to bring the place back to its historic appearance and better than code in everything else.

While he was around, he was always a friendly back fence neighbor. When we’d have friends over and be using the back yard, he always made a point of bringing his wife’s yappy dog inside so it wouldn’t bother us. He’d wave with a beer in his hand before following the dog inside, not too sure about all these young liberals who’d invaded his neighborhood. I don’t think he ever quite understood why we gratefully declined his offer to spray his gardening chemicals over the fence from his garden into mine. Organic wasn’t in his vocabulary. “Better living through chemistry” was.

Hurricane Fran came through Raleigh on September 6, 1996. Everyone who made it through that night has a bunch of stories. The one I remember most is about Marvin and his son.

Have you ever seen a catastrophe about to happen and been powerless to do anything about it? Tom and I were on our roof putting a tarp over some storm damage. We looked down and across the back yard fence to see Marvin and his son taking a chain saw to a damaged tree. Marvin’s son was standing on a broken branch, getting ready to cut. Fine, except that he was cutting between where he was standing and the tree trunk. Before he could finish yelling, “Oh, Sh…” the chain saw flew in one direction, the branch in another and he was ten feet down on the ground. Until then I’d only seen scenes like this on Saturday morning cartoons. The ground was so soggy that the only injury he suffered was to his pride – and the luckily the chain saw flew away from the bystanders.

The tree – and Marvin’s old house – are gone now. Like most of the homes on his street, they’ve been replaced by starter mansions occupied by nice people. I’ve met the new people, they seem nice enough, but we never really became friends in the couple of years we shared a fence. Did I mention these new homes lack front porches and have stockade fencing that’s slightly taller than head high surrounding their yards?

Now it’s my generation who are the veterans of the street. New people with their kids are moving in. Wonder what they think of us? And what stories they’ll tell about us when we’re gone? We already know most of the stories we tell about each other.

Around the corner was Harry – another good ol’ boy I shared my life with. More on him next time.

Looking across the back yard to the new house with the new neighbor we can’t see.