I’m reminiscing about my next-door neighbor Cecil, and the friendship we had. I have some wind chimes that were Cecil’s, and when the breeze makes music with the chimes, I think of him.
Three years ago Cecil passed away. I knew it was coming as he was in his eighties and his health was declining. But I was still sad to hear the news. After Cecil passed on, I wrote a blog post about him. He was a kind neighbor for seven years, and I think of him when I see my Yucca plants, which were daughter plants of his Yucca trees.
Cecil was from Georgia, a place I associate with front porch chats and leisurely visits. Although Cecil didn’t have a front porch, he always welcomed visitors. I sat in his living room many times, chit-chatting while my babies crawled around on his floor. We talked about his growing up on a watermelon farm. Cecil moved to San Diego for the Navy and told me what the city was like half a century ago. We chatted about kids and friendship and life. He talked about his pet turtle that lived outdoors under the house. More than a few times Cecil said, “Oh, you just missed the turtle. He came out and got some sun for a while.” I believed that the pet was real but I wondered if I’d ever see him. Apparently turtles do not keep to a schedule, so a sighting is nearly as rare as running into the queen at the pharmacy. Finally, I spotted him one day. The turtle didn’t do any tricks for me, but I was glad to see him with my own eyes at last. I’d waited six or seven years!
Cecil was part of what I liked about our neighborhood. Like others on the block, he’d lived in his house since shortly after it was built in the mid-1950s. He became good friends with others who had lived on the block for decades. I found that so charming. I liked joining a neighborhood where people knew their neighbors well, and were friends.
When Cecil passed he left a house full of furniture and household items. His sons lived far away and I wondered if or when they would sort through the house. Probate issues took time to resolve and a few months passed. One day I was shocked to hear a loud crash as a truck delivered a metal dumpster into the driveway next door. A crew started to clear the house of belongings. It bothered me that the entire house was emptied so quickly and unceremoniously. They weren’t taking Cecil from me but it still felt uncomfortable to watch my friend’s belongings thrown into a dumpster, all signs of his time in that house erased.
Soon, more changes came. Investors walked down the driveway, examining the exterior. The house was stripped down to its studs. Concrete was poured, the house was expanded a few feet, and interior walls were reconfigured. I snuck in one day to make peace with the changes while there was still some evidence of Cecil’s having lived there. I’d only seen a few rooms of Cecil’s house before and in a room I hadn’t seen, I discovered the original wallpaper from Cecil’s sons’ room. I was touched that the original wallpaper remained so long after his sons outgrew the room. I took photos of the print, a playful design that made me feel I'd walked onto the 1950s set of Leave it to Beaver.
Just as quickly as work began next door, it stopped. For months, there was no activity. Finally, things started happening again. Stucco was applied, and new sod was laid in back. The remodel was complete. Although Cecil’s house had needed a lot of TLC, I was a bit sad to see so much change because it didn’t look like Cecil’s house anymore. But the newer version was well-maintained and no longer a fixer-upper. Another good facet of the change felt like a gift directly from Cecil: a friendly new neighbor moved in next door. She was easy to talk with, cheerful. If we had to lose Cecil, I felt our new neighbor was a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. It felt as though Cecil had chosen a terrific neighbor for us, and I’m grateful for that. I think a neighborhood should be a place where people feel a bond with those who live nearby. In our neighborhood, people become friends with one another. We borrow things and lend things. We look out for one another. Our “new” neighbor has been here for more than a year and a half now, and she is a great addition. By coincidence, our new neighbor’s name starts with “C,” as Cecil’s did. I like that serendipity.
Who really knows whether Cecil guided our new neighbor to our street? Maybe it is coincidence, but I like to think Cecil had a hand in it. Maybe our new neighbor was simply attracted to this kind of neighborhood: one where people want connection, and are down-to-earth, where they walk their dogs and greet passers-by.
I feel fortunate that I have a kind neighbor next-door and before that, another great neighbor in Cecil. Change is sometimes hard but it can be a gift in disguise. Recently, there has been a lot of change on our street. In the last six months, six houses have sold. Our street only has 24 houses on it so you really notice that much change. I was sad to see elderly neighbors move to assisted living, and other families leave the area. But I’m trying to embrace the new, even if I miss what was. There is new life on our block. I’m making a point to welcome the new neighbors. Maybe I can be to the new neighbors who Cecil was to me.