It is dark, and in a few hours our neighbors of the last 11 years will be gone.
The rented good-bye truck in front of their house is crammed full of belongings and ready for the long haul to, of all places, Toledo. Not Spain. Ohio. And doing it, for all practical purposes, in the middle of another cruel winter there — while it has been a gorgeously warm autumn here.
No one moves to Toledo from Arizona. Do they? Arizona will never be home to me. But northern Ohio? Near war-zone Detroit and toxic Lake Erie?
While I understand that the most constant aspect on this planet is change, it does not make their departure easier to swallow.
Tom and Lee were pillars on Lynwood Street here in Phoenix.
Lee, a short perky blonde, for a while worked as a commercial painter, After being layed off, she did odd jobs. She house-sat and walked dogs and probably did a lot of other stuff I know nothing about. She had a biting sense of humor that did not always set well.
Tom, more than a few years older, was retired only in the sense he no longer answered to an employer. He was a skilled tradesman. He could do plumbing, air conditioning, carpentry, you name it. His garage was loaded with tools. And he was always busy fixing up his house, turning it from somewhat of a wreck into a little palace with a swimming pool in back. He loved to work and he loved his house.
Lee often called her husband “grumpy.” I thought he was a loveable bulldog kind of guy. A curmudgeon.
Anytime a neighbor sneezed, at least one of them knew about it. They were dug into the fabric of Lynwood like no others.
Together, Lee and Tom watched over Luis, an elderly Hispanic man who lived next door. I know Tom mowed his yard and along with another neighbor fixed up Luis’s garage. Most important, they befriended him.
My favorite memory is passing their house on my many treks down to the corner coffee shop. They would be seated on the tiny front porch, doors open to where you could see the backyard, talking and watching their two small dogs, Charlie and Rosey, frisk about in the front yard. I would stop to chat briefly. I am not a big talker. I hoped they did not take it wrong.
I don’t know why, really, that several months ago Tom and Lee suddenly decided to move back to Ohio where they came from. I never heard a word about them pining to go back. It was something about her elderly father, his eye surgery, vintage vehicles and the need to take care of him. It was never clear why they couldn’t find a nice place for him in sunny Phoenix. Not my business of course. Family matters are often byzantine anyway.
One thing was apparent. Tom did not want to move. It was Lee’s idea, and from what I heard, she herself was not too happy about the prospect. I hope this move doesn’t kill Tom. He’s in his 70s. I suggested he could always move back to Arizona.
“No,” he said, “this is my last cross-country move.”
Nebra bought going-away gifts. An Arizona Christmas tree decoration and an Arizona Highways calendar.
Out here in Phoenix you get used to people moving in, not moving out.
Tom said he hoped to make Albuquerque by the end of today, adding he was not going to “bust my ass” getting back up to Toledo.
I think the reason I feel so bad about their leaving is this. If they were joyous about moving north, or even semi happy, I’d be all for it. But to see them, or anyone else for that matter, make a move reluctantly, particularly when it’s late in life, well, it’s hard to witness.
It’s like watching someone cast a death sentence on their lives. Like strangling a dream.