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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Good Neighbor Gone (But Not Forgotten)

A good man died today.

By today's internet standards he wasn't famous--hell, if you googled his name you might not come up with anything but maybe a listing in the White Pages--but he was well known in our neighborhood. He lived most of his adult life here in Santa Rosa, watching it grow from a sleepy little town into the complicated city it's become. He worked as an estimator in the construction industry and in his off time refurbished an old Victorian house, making it a beautiful true-to-the-era home with modern luxuries hidden inside. He and his wife hosted marvelous Christmas parties every year, welcoming all the neighbors with open arms and an overflowing table of wine and food.

I know this because he lived right across the street.

When Mark and I were first married we moved from our tiny duplex to a three bedroom rental house on a nice tree-lined street. George was one of the first to greet us and soon we were regaled with stories of past renters, each tale more wild than the last: the woman who had mysterious visitors at all hours; the "psychologist" who counseled his patients in the nude in a backyard hot tub. I'm not sure if he was testing us or warning us, but ultimately we became good friends.

He spent a lot of time in his garage, tinkering with a classic race car and hanging out with the stray cats he would trap, take to the vet to get altered, then release back into the alley behind his house. He had a soft spot for animals and they loved him for it; cats that would hiss and run from everyone else would walk right up to George and demand to be petted.

There was a widow who lived next door to George for years. When she got so old she could no longer live alone and was moved into a care facility, it was George who watched over the place; taking care of the yard, keeping an eye on the house, fixing the damage after a storm blew down tree limbs. When she eventually passed away and the family wanted to sell, we expressed interest in purchasing the place but didn't have enough saved. It was George who came over and offered to help with the down payment so we could stay in the neighborhood.

What kind of neighbor does that?

We didn't end up taking his offer, but our deep respect and admiration for him tripled. All of our neighbors were wonderful; when we eventually moved (a whole four blocks away) we were a bit depressed. Our new neighbors were nice, but it wasn't the same. It was a lot like moving away from family.

When we told him of our plans to drive to Alaska in 2004, George had stories from his trip as a young man, when he rode a bus all the way up the Alaskan Highway when it was still a gravel road (paying his way working as a "pit crew" for the driver.)

He was a great resource for almost everything: where to find old hardware that matched our 1920's era house, how much wood we needed to complete a stretch of fence, how to get a dual carburetor motor tuned and running again. If we had a problem, George had most likely encountered the same at some point and come up with a solution.

George the Race Car Driver, Halloween 2001

When I got the call today, it wasn't a surprise. George had been fighting cancer for several years and had recently taken a turn for the worse. I've been flipping through some old photos and found several from our annual Halloween parties: the Race Car Driver, the Mobster, the Game Warden; there he was with a beer in his hand (always a Bud) telling a story and making everyone around him laugh. It made me smile to remember, even through the blur of tears.

So here's to our neighbor George: a skilled carpenter, a witty storyteller, a great friend and a wonderful neighbor. We're going to miss you, but how can you be forgotten? Every time we see a stray cat in the alley, one of the many neighborhood picket fences you helped build, or an old race car out for a spin, we'll be thinking about you.

You were one of a kind, and the best neighbor anyone could ever hope for.

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