Some strange things had been going on next door, and we had our suspicions. Andy had stopped mowing his lawn, and some of the weeds were knee-high. Then things started to disappear from the cluttered backyard. At first we thought his grill had been stolen, but then the yard furniture disappeared several days later. And then he started loading things on a trailer.
We had a nodding acquaintance with Andy. We moved in more than twelve years ago, and he had already been living in the house next door for several years. He kept to himself, and ran a one-man contracting business on the side - he had done several jobs in the neighborhood, and we enlisted his help when we redid our kitchen. He hung the cabinetry with painstaking precision, which made it all the more bizarre to look out the window and be reminded that the roof on his house was at least five years past its expiration date. But as they say, the cobbler's children have no shoes. (If anyone actually said that anymore, that is.)
We had wanted to ask him what was going on, but weren't sure what to say or how. I couldn't bring myself to ring his doorbell and start asking questions. We'd see him making a beeline from his car to his house, and no matter how many times we came up with an excuse to do yardwork and lie in wait, the conversation never happened. But once we got up the nerve to poke around in the public record, it didn't take us long to find out that his house was in foreclosure, and had been for over a year.
Then the Sunday morning when he loaded his couch and the stove onto a trailer. I went next door to offer my help, but he was just finishing up with that trailer-load. But finally the moment came when I could simply ask him, "What's going on?"
Andy shrugged and told me that he had an opportunity to move into the family cabin on the opposite side of the state, and he was going for it. He said that this was the final load, and then he was gone. I shook his hand, wished him luck. I walked back to my door and told my family that we wouldn't be seeing Andy again.
The following Saturday, I mowed his lawn, raked the leaves, and picked up some odds and ends in the front yard and the alley. And I started to get angry. Part of it was anger at the unfortunate series of events that had brought a decent neighbor to this point. And I was also angry with Andy; would it really have killed him to mow the lawn, and cut down the saplings that were encroaching on his porch? And all the while, I realized it was a self-indulgent anger. I spent maybe an hour tidying things up - it's not like I had to rent a dumpster. I know people who have been through foreclosures, and I have seen what that can do to a person - frustration, anxiety, embarrassment, depression. I had no right to complain.
The next day, Andy pulled up with the trailer and took a few more things out of the house. Too bad, because that would've made for a memorable encounter: Hi, it's your neighbor, standing in your yard with a weed whacker.
He came back a few days later and loaded his trailer with firewood - an odd choice for someone who was moving a couple of hours away. And a little annoying, since I had planned on stealing some of that firewood as payment for mowing the lawn.
Since then, we've met the realtor who will be working on the sale of the house. They are going to clean the place up and hire someone to make sure the snow gets shovelled. And today they changed the locks, so I'm guessing that's the last we've seen of Andy.
In the meantime, I'll continue to see some of the clutter that Andy left behind, including this:
A few years ago, Andy had a Nativity scene set up on his front yard, so that would be Joseph contemplating an escape from the bag. No irony there.