When we moved to Milan, Ohio, two years ago, a terrific high school boy, Connor, began mowing and trimming our yard. He’s not reluctant to tackle any chore. He even joined Cliff for fence painting on summer mornings when he didn’t have football practice. My mother would have called Conner workified, significant praise from her.
Still, we’ve had an ongoing issue about edging the sidewalk. Cliff asked him to do it, and he did. To some extent. Not always. I’d walk out there later and say it wasn’t right.
“He didn’t think it was needed today,” Cliff offered.
“Yes, it was,” I sighed.
Back and forth for weeks. Finally I got Cliff to stand out front, and I showed him the issue. Four houses line our block. Three owners edge their sidewalk to perfection with no grassy overhang.
“We don’t match,” I said.
He left it up to me to show Connor.
When he arrived on Monday, I told him that no matter what he believed, you never stop being in high school. He looked puzzled. I took him to the sidewalk and explained that the meticulous edgers belonged to the popular crowd.
“Our edging dooms us to the Loser Table,” I said. “Cliff and I eat there all alone. But we have a chance if you’ll help us.”
He grinned and nodded his head. When he finished, he knocked on the door for my inspection. Side by side in the shade, I said, “It’s everything Cliff and I have dreamed of. We might get an invitation after all.” He laughed.
People have asked how I stood teaching teenagers. Honestly, I loved it. I never encountered a bad one, and it had nothing to do with academic performance. They just wanted to do the right thing. They wanted to help. They wanted to matter.
Their reward didn’t need to be anything more than an appreciative smile. If I could get them to laugh in the process, case sealed.
So I thanked him, and as we walked toward the garage, he asked what we planned to do about our crumbling brick driveway because he had an idea. I listened carefully to his storehouse of knowledge, based on the work his dad had done on their own. He suggested I stop and look at theirs. He’d seen me walking by with our dog Maria.
Connor said he could help us when we decided.
Some people might call this a nosey neighbor, but I don’t. It’s what I appreciate about a small town. We set our personal clocks by such observations, winding the neighbors’ rhythms into our mental ticktocking, penciling our hearts with a notation: I know you.
We become pathfinders, placemarkers, handholders.
The encounter was bigger than a clipped sidewalk.
A 15-year-old boy left our yard smiling. We’re partners. I took note.
Yesterday as Maria and I approached their driveway, a passing woman urged me to cross at the corner. “You don’t want to miss the honeysuckle,” she said. “Sweetest smell of summer.”