“Good afternoon,” the gentleman said with a smile.
“Hello. I reply to Mr. Neighbor. “Nice weather we’re having.”
“I’m Jerry. I saw you walking earlier with your little girl. Is this her first day of school?”
“Yes, I just dropped Kellee off at kindergarten.” Pointing to the sleepy boy in the stroller, “This is her brother Billy and I’m Lisa. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. Stop by after school. I’d like to meet Kellee.”
“I will, see you later.” With that I stroll on home and put Billy down for his nap. The afternoon flies by and soon my daughter and I are walking home with Billy in the stroller. Kellee’s chattering away about new friends and cubbys and calendars so fast that I only catch the key words. It’s like when you’re learning a new language and a native speaker seems to be talking at light speed while you’re listening in slow motion. We stop at Jerry’s driveway. He rises from his chair in the garage and puts down the book he was reading. I notice it’s a Bible.
“Hi, I’m Jerry.” He directs his words to my little girl but does not get too close for comfort. I appreciate his sensitivity to a child’s need to feel safe. “Your mommy told me it was your first day of kindergarten. Did you like it?”
“Yes,” she replies shyly. Wow Mr. Neighbor, Jerry has the power to turn off chatter and slow down speech.
“Well it was the first day your mommy had a child in kindergarten so I’d like you to do something for her. I’d like you to pick her a flower from this bush here because she was a good mommy to get you all ready and taking you to school.” He was partly right. Kellee got herself dressed but I’d helped her pick out the red plaid skirt and red shirt with matching plaid poodle on it and I’d brushed her fine blonde hair.
Kellee took her time examining the bush and pointed at one near the back. “I like that one.” Jerry picked it for her and she gave it to me with a big smile. “Thank you mommy.”
And so began our relationship with Jerry. Whenever we walked, Kellee would pick me a flower. Most days Jerry was there with a wave and a smile. When Billy was old enough he too would pick me a “Jerry flower.”
At Christmastime he hung a simple strand of the large colored bulbs around the eaves of his house. It was never the type of house you’d go off the beaten path to see like the award-winning cul-de-sac nearby. Jerry’s light was the joy he took in seeing my children give me those little daisies after school. It was a light I enjoyed year-round, not just at Christmas.
We did enjoy his lights every year though. The simplicity had a calming effect on me and the large bulbs reminded me of my childhood. Not many people used the large bulbs anymore. But, then again, Jerry wasn’t like most people.
One December evening on my way to the grocery store I noticed Jerry’s lights were up but not on. Well it’s a bit early. Maybe they’ll be on later. But they weren’t on when I returned from the store either. The next day at the mailboxes I found out why. “Did you hear about Jerry?” asked Kirby, the manager of our apartment complex. “He had a massive heart attack yesterday.”
“What! How?” I stammered.
“His wife thinks he worked too hard putting up the lights. He did that and some other chores and was watching television the last time she saw him alive. She went into her sewing room to work on a quilt. When she came into the living room later, he was gone.” I thanked Kirby for the information and went in to tell the kids.
The lights stayed off that season. The kids didn’t pick anymore flowers. It didn’t feel the same without Jerry there. Instead they each pointed to a flower that would stay on the bush but be mine. Even in lean years my flowers bloomed. Maybe Jerry was nourishing it from his new Home—a Home full of Light because Christ dwells there.
Jerry’s widow hired someone to take down the Christmas lights and the bush is gone but the memories remain. My memories of his kindness are light to my soul. They are like bulbs that keep on blooming.
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