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Stephen F. Austin State University

Neighbors... With Only Memories For Companionship (March 2012)

Neighbors... with only memories for companionship
by Van Craddock

I used to see them sitting there, but not anymore.

They were two old men who lived next door to one another, and almost every time I passed by in my car they were sitting out in their front yards. They both appeared to be in their 80s, although I'm not sure because I was just driving by on my way to downtown Longview.

There were always there. Whenever I was driving down that particular street - which was two or three times a week - I'd always look for them. And I'll have to admit there were even a couple o' times I went a block or so out of my way just to go down that street to see if they were there. Generally, if the sun were out and it wasn't too cold, they were.

One was a rather large man, with snowy white hair that reminded me of "Tip" O'Neill. He'd be sitting in a lawn chair, holding a wooden cane and looking out toward the street. The other man was smaller, quite thin in fact, and he always wore suspenders and would be sitting in a rusted old metal chair.

That's all they ever did. I never saw them reading a book or checking the yard for crab grass or even taking a snooze. They would just sit there, passing the time of day.

But never with each other.I suppose that's why they made such an impression on me. Here they were, sitting in their front yards day after day not more than 30 feet from one another, and not once in the two or three years I'd been noticing them did I ever see them talking to each other. It was as though each refused to acknowledge the existence of the other.

Maybe they did talk and I just drove by at the wrong time. Or maybe it was too much of an effort for one to walk over to the other. Maybe they'd had a feud, as neighbors tend to do sometimes, and weren't talking to each other.

It got to the point that I considered stopping and asking them about it. But that would be nosy, even for a newspaper guy.

It was a shame, though, because I'll bet they could have told some interesting tales. Here they were, long retired, with only memories for companionship … and apparently no one with which to share them.

Maybe one had tales about his military service, or could share some long-long tidbit about Gregg County's historic past. Goodness knows they had the time to talk about lifetimes of successes and sorrows.

But in all the months I passed by, I never saw anyone else at the two houses. No wives, no children, nobody. The men were just killing time. Or maybe time was just killing them.

Then one day I drove by and only saw the bigger man, the one with the cane, sitting outside. He still sat there looking at the traffic, but the metal chair in his neighbor's yard was gone. I suspected the worst.

It wasn't long when someone began remodeling the house where the smaller man had lived. Then a family moved in. But they didn't seem to converse with the old man next door, either. And he continued to sit all alone in his front yard.