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fire and rain

We have this neighbor named Bernie.  Mr. Bernie, that’s what we call him.  He’s about the same age as my parents, and since he retired we see him nearly every day, just across the circle from our house.  He likes to sit in his lawn chair just inside his garage, where he can look out and see the whole street. He’s one of those quiet men that’s not so quiet once you get to talking with him, quick with a smile, always with a wave and a hello.

He likes to walk all over the blocks around our house, and I do mean all over – about the time you think you have his route figured out, you round a different corner and there his is, popping up like Waldo.  “There’s Mr. Bernie!” my kids shout, and we roll down the windows and wave.

About a year ago we figured out that I knew his daughter from a summer spent at Governor’s School 20 years ago.  She and I swapped high school reunion stories a few weeks ago when she came in for hers.  Standing in my front yard, I told her how much we loved living across the street from her dad, how we didn’t want to see him go.

He had recently put his house up for sale, having decided to move to some land he owns up around Mountain Home.  It’s just him now, holding down this house across the street from me, and he’d rather be out there.  There are plans for a house there – a place he can build at his own pace – and he visits nearly every weekend.

He was there this weekend, clearing brush from his land, working on the next part of his life, when the unthinkable happened.  There was an accident.  He was alone.  And now, suddenly, he is gone.  Another neighbor, George, knocked on our door to tell us this afternoon.  George and Bernie have lived next door to each other for 30 years.  They are family.  George knocked on every door on our street today.

The funny thing is, if you’d asked me to guess which neighbor it was knocking on my door today, I would have guessed Bernie.  He knocked every once in a while, sometimes to tell me that I’d driven off leaving my garage door open, and he’d managed to close it for me, or to tell me of some other little occurrence on our street.  Most often, though, I would open the door to him bearing a watermelon from his weekend travels; he loved to bring us one back. I don’t think I’ve actually bought a watermelon for the last 2 or 3 summers because we always have one around from Mr. Bernie.  I’d see him the next day and he’d ask, “Was it a good one?”  “Yes,” I always answer, “the kids are eating it up…”

And now, because I don’t know what else to do, I come here.  I have hugged his daughter, held yet another neighbor’s hand as she cried, lost myself in crying, prayed with my kids. I come here to try to put some words down, show you how special he was, how much simple small things can make a difference, even from across the street.

It was a good one, Bernie. We’ll miss you so very much.

6 Comments

  1. Bobby

    oh dear…about halfway through I realize I’m in for something emotionally gripping.  no turning back.  too late.  beautiful and sad and hopeful and inspiring.  but there was one thing missing:  a little warning at the top that tears may be involved in the reading of this post!

  2. so sorry friend – that’s exactly the way it hit me yesterday…thanks for staying with me.

  3. oh, so sad.  i’m so sorry.

    i’ve eaten some of that watermelon.

  4. jerusalem

    I am sorry friend. That is heartbreaking. We have a Mr. Withers and I cannot imagine the neighborhood without him.

  5. Lana F. Flowers

    I don’t know you or Mr. Bernie, but I saw your tweeted link and read this, and now I’m crying a little. Godspeed Mr. Bernie.

  6. Thank you for putting these thoughts and emotions into form. I miss Bernie more than I’ve let on. He was a very special man.

    Subtly, his life will have shaped the lives of our children. At least I hope it has.