Last year my neighbor passed away 3 months shy of his 100th birthday. Bob was a big loss to our neighborhood, and he will not soon be forgotten.
Bob had lived in his house more than seventy years. Back in the late 1940’s he moved to California, got married, built his house from scratch, and raised a family. Bob would never consider, even in the smallest amount, ever moving out of his house. And he was true to the end. Bob passed away at home, in his bed, surrounded by family. Who could ask for more?
I was privileged to know Bob for his final 3 ½ years. He was funny, generous, and kind. Even though he was struggling to walk, he would often find a way to step onto his porch to greet my wife and I if we were outside. Every Thursday he would have someone drive him to the local Senior Center where he would play Bingo for a few hours. And every Friday he would find it necessary to tell me how much he won playing the game. It was usually 2 or 3 dollars, and he played only 12 games (at 1 dollar per game) to win it. But he had fun being the only man at the venue.
During his last year, I began taking his trashcans to the curb each week for the sanitation engineers to pick up. I noticed very little in the cans beyond ice cream cartons, so I asked the obvious question: "Do you need help getting groceries, or preparing food?” To this I received 3 minutes of laughter as a reply. It seems Bob decided that healthy eating habits were only for those persons hoping for a long healthy life, and he had already accomplished that. At his age (98 at the time) he decided to eat what he wanted, and what he wanted was an unlimited supply of ice cream. The only variance in his ice cream diet was found in brand and flavor.
About 2 months before Bob passed away, I spend an afternoon with him on his back porch listening to the many stories he had lived through in his lifetime. Neither of us really wanted to be sitting on his porch, but Bob couldn’t find the keys to his door, and managed to lock himself out of his home. Spare keys had been hidden is very specific spots around his property, and I knew where most of them were, so I started searching.
The first place I looked, Bob immediate informed me he had loaned those keys to his grandson. So I went to the second place only to be told his grandson’s wife had those keys. Number 3 went to another grandson. Number 4 went to his daughter’s partner’s brother. And so forth. No spare keys were remaining. So we sat on his back porch trying to call everyone with a key. Not answering. Out of town. Lost the key. Oh, I have a key? Etc.
For several hours I listened to Bob’s stories. He spent World War II in Africa as a supply clerk near Casablanca where he went swimming in the ocean every afternoon. When it was time to return home, he flew back in the open door bomb bay of a B-24. He said he watch the Atlantic Ocean beneath his feed for the many hours of the flight, all the time hoping not to fall out. When I asked him if he was strapped in, he replied, “Where's the fun in that?" ‘Quite a character’ does not begin to describe Bob.
Finally Bob ran out of stories, and we grew tired of waiting for some of those persons not answering their phones to return messages. Bob’s neighbor to the east (I live on the west side) noticed us and came over to visit. When we told him the circumstances, he retrieved some tools from his home to break into Bob’s house. In just a few minutes Bob was inside eating ice cream. The next day I repaired the damage to the doorframe, and was handed a spare set of keys--just in case.
Bob left this world a little over a year ago, and every day when I step outside the first thing I do is check to see if Bob is out on his porch to greet me. I know he is no longer there, but I still see him every time I look at the house that Bob built.