Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Year of Bad News

This morning we received word that our former neighbor in Raleigh, Dot Smith, passed away yesterday. This marks yet another death in our lives this year. We stopped counting when the numbers reached 10.

When I bought the house on King Charles in the Longview Gardens neighborhood of Raleigh in June 2004, the first neighbors I met were Dot and Henry Smith. Dot and Henry were a couple in their 80s that you couldn't help but meet; Dot and Henry were outside working in their yard every day. And when they weren't in the yard, they were busy with their children and grandson, delivering meals on wheels, and active in their church and the neighborhood association. Dot and Henry led very full, very rich lives, and were very proud of their family. Dot and Henry built their home in Longview Gardens in 1951 and lived in it ever since.

It wasn't long before I was out in the yard all the time, too, and often worked alongside the Smiths. We helped each other trim trees and bundle yard waste, Dot helped me identify plants in the yard, and they both shared stories about the previous owners and the neighborhood. My favorite stories were about the pony that the Smiths kept in their backyard while their girls were young.

As the renovations on my house convened, Henry would pop over every day or so to see what was going on. I took great pride in showing Henry the changes in the house because he seemed to be so proud of the effort I was making. One day Henry showed up with a gift for me: it was a Craftsman hand tool he called a maddox. It is a long handled yard tool with an axe blade on one side and another blade on the other side, turned 90 degrees. He told me it would become the most useful garden tool I owned and he was right. Every time I use it, I think of Henry. In fact, Jon and I just used it a few months ago to grub out gigantic crab apple tree roots here in Boise. I remember saying at the time, "it's a good thing Henry gave me this, huh?"

Henry passed away just a few months after Jon moved into the house and Jon too, quickly grew to love the Smiths. I think Henry was pleased to have another tinkering man around. Henry passed away shortly after stubbornly trimming crepe myrtle trees in the front yard...with a chainsaw. I was a wreck at the funeral, but the Smith family was calm and composed because they have a strong religious faith and were secure that Henry was in a good place.

I truly loved Dot and Henry. After Henry died, we really looked out for Dot and did whatever we could for her, which wasn't much. She was very capable. Jon would use the weedeater on her trees and bushes because her riding lawn mower didn't get close enough. She let us pick figs and cherries from her fruit trees and we were grateful.

Dot had an awesome, underutilized four-string clothesline in her yard that abutted ours. I asked her if I could use it and she agreed. It wasn't long before she was back to using the clothesline again, and we spent many moments chatting while hanging and folding laundry. Later on, when Dot sold her mother's house to a fantastic family with a gaggle of kids, the Culpeppers used the line too. Even our neighbors Jer and Selina on the other side of us, not even next to Dot, used it. It became the social hub of all our houses. Bored? Check the clothesline. Anyone out there?

Dot was busy, but every time we knocked on her door, she always said "come in, come in." At the time we were married, she still owned her mother's house directly behind her own and she let us use it to house seven of our family members for the week. Dot talked often of her mother, which in her Carolina accent she pronounced, "muthuh." I loved to hear her say it. I loved hearing Dot call to us from across her expansive yard.

As Jer said today, "She was an amazing person that just exuded life to everyone she met, if anybody deserves a place in heaven it surely is Ms. Dot."

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