"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Next Door Neighbors

My next door neighbor died last week. It was a sad day for me, our neighborhood and our community. Dr. Farr was known and loved by hundreds, if not thousands. He practiced as an obstetrician in town for over 40 years. In fact, he delivered some of my siblings. I forget why he didn't deliver me. I think I was too quick for him and he didn't make it to the hospital soon enough. My mom will have to correct me if I'm wrong. 

Our houses are extremely close with only about 15 feet between our side yards. My kitchen window looks directly into theirs, giving me an odd, voyeuristic and intimate view into their life over the years. Their house sits lower than mine, so they can't see into my kitchen from theirs. When I moved in 11 years ago I was leery of having neighbors quite so close. I felt that I was somehow violating their privacy if I even looked their direction when they were in the kitchen. Those fears where soon put to rest when their oldest son, Ricky, waved to me from their kitchen. Ricky is mentally handicapped, so although he's in his late 50's, he functions at a much younger level.

I'll never forget the advice of the woman I bought the house from. She explained to me that Ricky was a talker. He'll talk for hours without any break in a conversation that allows one to say goodbye and walk away. She told me I'd have to learn to just walk away and go in the house when I'd had enough, and promised that he wouldn't be offended. She was right. At first it was a bit of an annoyance, but I quickly learned to appreciate his chatter and company as he followed me around as I worked outside. He's also good for helping lift and carry things that are too heavy for me or need two people to manage. 

Mrs. Farr died about two years ago. She was an incredibly sweet woman who loved to talk and visit. Between her and her husband, I couldn't have asked for better neighbors. On one of my first visits to their house to drop off some holiday treats she brought up my view into their kitchen. I'd always wondered why they didn't have curtains on that window. Their visibility to me didn't bother her one bit. In fact, she told me that the daffodils under their window were planted specifically for the pleasure of one of the previous occupants of my house, as they were a favorite flower of hers. She told me how she watched out for the woman who lived there just before me. She'd lost her husband and a daughter in a horrific car accident and was severely hurt herself. In the months following the accident, Mrs. Farr was very concerned about her. She asked her to get up every morning and turn the light on in her kitchen to signal she was okay. If there was no light, Mrs. Farr knew to come over and help. 

My Lucy and the daffodils under the Farr's window.

I often marveled at the patience and dedication they both showed to their son. Every weekday morning Dr. Farr made him a hot breakfast before Ricky headed off to his job, usually pancakes or french toast and eggs . Saturdays were their days together, which they spent doing yard work and other chores. Up until last fall, Dr. Farr, who was in his mid-eighties, was outside doing his own fall clean-up and keeping his immaculate yard in tip-top shape. 

Watching the routine and rhythms of their daily lives over the years was a pleasure. The predictability of their life brought me comfort. Breakfast was always at the same time. Dr. Farr was often baking and Mrs. Farr talked on the phone a lot, always the social butterfly. On Sundays I'd often hear the scrape of their back door as Dr. Farr came out to the patio to grill something for dinner. In the late fall their window awnings would come down, signaling that winter would soon be upon us. Every spring they went back up, as much a sign of the coming spring as the crocus blooming. Each May their patio filled up with potted annuals, which they would take up to their summer home as soon as the danger of frost was gone. At our annual July 24 street party there was always Dr. Farr's homemade raspberry ice cream for dessert. In the fall he would show up at my side door with a bag of peaches he'd bought from a roadside fruit stand. At Christmastime he would bring over some of his homemade chocolate chip cookies. 

When I stopped seeing Dr. Farr in the kitchen each morning and noticed his daughter and granddaughter at the house every day I knew something was wrong. Within a short time, there were strangers in their kitchen making Ricky's breakfast, home health care aides who were there 24 hours a day. When the light in their main level office was on in the evenings and the middle of the night, I knew Dr. Farr's office had become his bedroom so he would no longer have to take the steep stairs up to his bedroom. The same thing had happened during Mrs. Farr's last weeks when she was on hospice care. All of the signs were there. Something was seriously wrong. My suspicions were confirmed when I ran into their daughter at the grocery store and learned Dr. Farr was suffering from a rapidly advancing form of Parkinson's Disease. I only glimpsed him a few times after that, stooped over at the table and barely able to eat. Ricky was often in the kitchen alone wandering like a lost soul. His breakfasts were solemn affairs now and he often ate alone. It made my heart break. When all of their adult children and grand kids showed up, I knew the end was very close and I watched every morning for signs that Dr. Farr had died. 

Now the house sits empty and still most of the time. When I look into their window I see only darkness. All of their family have returned to their homes. Ricky has moved into his sister's home a few blocks away. He'll be back every week for a while to take the garbages out in the neighborhood, a job he insisted on doing for neighbors around us for several blocks. The house will be sold soon. I'll have to learn to remember when it's garbage day and get my containers to the street. Eventually I'll have new neighbors. I wonder what they'll be like. Will they put curtains up? Will they fit in with our street where we all know just enough of each other's business to know when something isn't right? Will they understand what big shoes they have to fill? For now I'm waiting and hoping for the best.

The view from my kitchen window into the Farr's backyard.


  1. That is such a sad, sad story. I'm glad there are relatives who can take up the slack for Ricky. It sounds like they were a wonderful family. I am sorry, but I do appreciate the story you have written for me to contemplate the passing of Dr. Farr.

  2. Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute for this dear man. Yes, he was the doctor who took care of me during seven pregnancies. He delivered three of my five live births. He was on his way from Salt Lake City when you were born, but he didn't make it in time to deliver you. Always efficient, and early, you were born after three hours of labor. In fact, once I was in the delivery room, you were born after just three contractions. (This may be TMI for some of your readers.) ;) Dr. Farr said I really only needed someone to catch you as your were born. That was true.

    Dr. Farr was one of the most endearing, kind, and supportive doctors I ever had. I am grateful he was there when my children were born, and I am grateful he was your neighbor for these past 11 years. I know you will really miss him. I think we all learned valuable lessons on life from him.

  3. What an incredibly moving and eloquently written tribute to a man who sounds like he really made a difference in the world -- and indeed, to his entire family. I'm sure you will feel the loss keenly as what has become a pleasant and neighborly routine will change. I hope those who one day purchase his house will learn of the legacy he and his wife left behind and that Ricky won't be a stranger to you and others on your street. I'm so sorry for the loss. He sounds like quite a human being.

  4. What a great post! I hope your new neighbors are equally wonderful!


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