Friday, May 20, 2005

Did You Ever Have a Great Neighbor?

I did, once again in North Bay, and his name is Mitch Fox. Mitch wasn’t the original owner of the place next to mine that would have been the Jones’. Dick and his wife, good enough folks and very friendly and all, but Dick passed away while trying to start his lawn mower the year after I’d moved in. So we really didn’t have much of a chance to get to know one another, and, she moved out shortly after he died.

Mitch, and his wife Debbie, bought the place shortly after it went on the market that year. I still remember driving home from the local hardware store the day they first started in on sprucing the place up. (For those of you who’ve not yet purchased your first home, I can promise you that you’ll be on a first name basis with the Home Center folks within 3 months, if not weeks, of the time you do!!) It was summer, a rather hot and sunny day and as I approach my place I could see the activity in the old Jones place.

I went home, put away whatever it was I’d purchased, grabbed a cold 6-pack and headed over to meet my new neighbors.

Now one of two things was likely to happen, either they’d be appalled at my showing up, unannounced, with beer, and an offer to lend a hand, or, as I was hoping, they’d be hot and thirsty enough to be glad to see me.

Fortunately for me, they were glad to see me!

I don’t remember ‘exactly’ what I helped them with that day, if it was removing that wall to install the wood-stove, or that came later… maybe I just helped slap some paint on a ceiling or two… whatever it was, it was the start of a close personal friendship that lasted 10 or 12 years. Well, as I’ve said before, I truly believe if I moved back to North Bay, we’d all be friends still, again, as I consider us friends now. We just don’t see each other any more as I’ve moved over 800 miles away.

Mitch and I did a lot of things together, more than I could possibly relate here. We were always at his place or mine, building, fixing, improving, adjusting, or removing something. If we weren’t doing that, we were fishing… and man did we fish!!

One of the great things about Mitch and I is that we had nothing in common from a ‘career’ standpoint… he could gripe about his job, I about mine, and neither of us ever felt compelled to help the other ‘fix’ a job problem. I had no idea how to do what he did, and he didn’t know about what I did… perfect synergy in my eyes.

We had plenty of other things in common though, love of family, cars, trucks, fishing… did I mention fishing?

Mitch is one of the strongest, yet gentlest men I’ve ever known. If ever the saying “walk softly but carry a big stick” applied to anyone, it certainly applied to him. He rarely ever has a cross word for anyone, and the only times I can recall his temper even beginning to show was when there was something that threatened his family in some way. In most cases he just didn’t get upset.

Of course maybe that’s because we expended so much physical energy, all the time. We’d cut firewood when the weather was cool (and often when it wasn’t), repair and repaint cars when it warmed up, fix whatever was broken on our ‘estates’ as required, and when we weren’t doing that, well, weather permitting, well…. we were fishing. Walleye fishing….

For those of you from the South, there is one fresh water fish that’s the absolute finest eating fish in the country, and that’s the Walleye. A fish far more difficult to catch than say Bass, or Perch, or even Trout in certain situations, but once you land one, and have it for dinner, you’re hooked!

The process of catching them can become an obsession (oops… Passion) all it’s own. Once you begin to learn the ‘soft touch’ of one of those rascals ‘taking the bait, and are able to start actually catching them, you’ll do what he and I did. Spend every possible moment out on the lake in pursuit of the Walleye.

It was during those fishing days that I really came to appreciate our friendship. We’d sit fishing, sometimes for hours or more at a time, and not say a word. Just drifting around the lake, catching a fish here and there (and we always did catch fish!!) often talking only to exchange information on what lure we were using when we caught that last one. We’d talk too, about work, what bonehead stunt his boss or one of my customers (or my boss if I happened to be employed) had pulled last week. About his kids, what funny things they’d done, our wives (all good of course), the homesteads and our plans, our dreams, our desires for those we loved…

When I decided to move away from North Bay, it was partly because my wife at the time no longer wanted to live there, partly because I’d taken a ‘job’ again and the daily commute was getting harder. I know this, that had I been single (divorced/separated) then, I most likely would not have moved. One of the reasons I really enjoyed living in North Bay was having Mitch as my neighbor.

He spoiled me you see, ruined me for every other neighbor I’ve ever had. There’s been no one like him (and his family, they were a wonderful and inseparable package) since, not remotely close. It’s possible I’ve tweaked the memory somehow, made it better than it actually was. The truth is though; I really doubt that I have. I can still look around my garage today, see a particular tool, and remember something Mitch and I fixed, painted, built, repaired or deconstructed with it. Every time I complete building anything out of wood, I can still hear his Dad say: “Not bad for a wood butcher”.

When ever I’m stressing over one more detail on a project, I can still hear Mitch say: “Bill, it’s good enough, for who it’s for” meaning that given it was him or I it was ‘for’, and we’d be changing it in a month anyway, it was fine for now.

I can still hear Debbie’s laughter the night she came home from a night ‘out with the girls’ and Mitch and I were on the back steps (taking a break and drinking a cold beer) between coats painting that big blue Van.

I remember the ‘Clambake’, man that was good eats and good company. The ‘roof raising’ weekend where his Dad and I outpaced a crew of five, (on the other side of the roof) as we all nailed shingles down. How Mitch nearly had a heart attack as hi Dad sat on the edge of the roof placing the starter strip. (His dad was in his late 60’s then, and could still work most guys in their 20’s to their knees). So many good times, like the time I used his garage one very cold winter morning to throw new brakes on the front of my VW… Mitch went in to make coffee, his Dad was there too, I came in and we sat around drinking coffee, talking and such. Eventually, his Dad said, “You ain’t gonna get them brakes fixed sittin here”. All he did was grin at me when I explained I’d done the job while the coffee was brewing. I remember we went on to fix something else that day, but, for the life of me I can not remember what it was.

Ok... So… The lesson in here? It’s:

“Value those good neighbors you may find, think long and hard before you leave them behind”

I’m hoping Whit runs into Mitch, and that they have some sort of internet access at the Fox household these days, as I’d love for Mitch to stop by and read this. We talked some last fall, there was hope he might stop by on his way to Florida on vacation, or I’d get back up North and have time to stop by, but neither thing has happened yet. Too bad, I’m sure he’s got at least one project I could help with, I know I’ve got one or two with his name on them!

Again, I appreciate you all continuing to read about these folks. They’re unique bunch for sure, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of these experiences for anything!

Please leave a comment if these tales touch you in any way, I appreciate the feedback.


RealLady said...

Bill, your "tales" have always touched me! I never tire of either reading them or hearing them! Keep up the great work sweetie!

Bill said...

Heh-heh... and *you* should know... you've heard them all at *least* once!!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I know what you mean. Our first house was on a block of brand new houses so we all moved in at the same time and we were all young couples. Also, the garages were in the front so everyone knew everybody. We had block parties and neighborhood events. I had several close girlfriends and the men helped each other with projects and talked fences and yards. It was so fun.

When we moved across town to an established neighborhood, it's never been the same...and until THEN we didn't know how good we'd had it.

Now the garages enter from the alley and everyone is at different stages in life and it seems people move in and out more frequently.

Karyn Lyndon said... have an uncanny way of making a six-pack of beer actually sound as wholesome and American as apple pie.

Bill said...

Karyn: You mean it's not???

You do get spoiled once you've had that good neighbor!!

Karyn Lyndon said...

Wish we were husband needs help with the roof and he would be ALL OVER the six pack. Take him fisihing and he would love you forever.

And no, there are some circles that believe alcohol is the work of the

Bill said...

Yeah, it's too bad!, we'd probably make great neighbors!! Texas is a long haul from North Carolina, I'd have trouble keeping the beer cold on my way over!

As for the other, those poor misguided souls. Why do they think we have water, barley and hops?

Now, I can see how the actions of some when 'over-indulging' could be viewed that way. But that's actually who they really are, the beer just let them 'out'. :)

Firehawk said...


Never had any great neighbors. A few who were nice, but it's been a long time since we even knew anyone's name on the street. I know that there's been a huge turnover in housing in my area since we moved in in 1999, the houses going from old folks and drunken cowboys to Hispanics and Tongans. On balance, I prefer our neighbors now. They're nicer when I meet them on the street walking my dog.

I remember the days when the neighbor would walk over and lend a hand when we were installing an electric fan on our old T-Bird or some such, but in a big town (relatively speaking, anyway), it's not really much of a neighborhood. More like a lot of people living close together.

Trevor Record said...

I don't think I've ever really even met half the neighbor's I've had. Hopefully when I move into the new place I'll be friends with some neighbors. Yours sounds like a pretty great guy.

When I was little I used to go fishing with my dad even though I hated it (I liked my dad). I would without fail be the one who always caught a fish. I'd always want to throw it back, making up some excuse for why we couldn't keep it. Seeing the poor helpless thig thrashing around on the bottom of the canoe made me sick. I guess it's no surprise that I'm a vegetarian now.

Bill said...

Firehawk/Trevor: That's been my experience as well, before, and after, these folks. Just a bunch of people living close together. Unfortunate really, all the 'connectivity' we can imagine, and yet, we remain disconnected.

Trevor: You were/are more sensitive to the fish's plight than I. Me, I'm a carnivore, although I do like the veggies too.

Truth be told, we released far more than we ever kept, in fact, unless we were actually intending to have fish for dinner, they always went back... You see, if you replace them, they're there for the next time :)

Firehawk said...


My only bit of fish wisdom: Striped Bass like Led Zeppelin, especially the first record. It's unclear why Zep outperforms other classic rock in this regard, but there it is.

Also--a fish you've caught a time or two is "broke in", and will be easier when you're really serious about dinner. That is not a fish fact, but it could be!

Euphoricism said...

I just stumbled into your blog, but from a fellow writer, (of a completely different type) you can f'n write. Good show my friend, good show. Excellent stuff.

Bill said...

Euphoricism: Thanks for stoppin by... and for the kudos... they mean a lot! I'm glad you enjoyed my stuff.