There is a house in my parents’ neighborhood that was always decorated to the hilt for the holidays. It started with a small Christmas display, then grew from there to an entire Santa’s village. Then came Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving with lights, inflatables, and signs. Each year was more interesting than the last.
The house was close enough to where my parents live that we passed it all the time but not so close that we knew its residents. In fact, I didn’t know anything about them until a few years back when my mother first spoke with one of the owners. She serves on a committee that hosts a local contest for the best energy-efficient Christmas display. She spoke with the owner of the house to see whether he was planning to enter the contest, and he shared a sad story. He told my mother that his wife was dying of cancer. The Halloween decorations had been amazing that year; it was better than most of the local haunted houses. He said his wife was the one who adored the decorations, and he wanted to make it truly special for her because he wasn’t sure how much longer she would live. He told my mother that if they didn’t see Christmas decorations, they would know his wife was gone.
There were no Christmas decorations that year or the next, or any other holidays in between. Every time I passed that house, I would think about the man and wonder how he was.
I drove by the other day and saw a few lights around the house and a sign that read, “Happy Halloween!” Later in the week, inflatables popped up on the lawn and fake spider webs on the fences. It’s funny to think that it made my whole day knowing that a man I’ve never even met is doing okay.
Usually I hate maudlin stories like this one, things that show up in Readers Digest and Chicken Soup for the Soul, stories designed to purposely tug at your heartstrings and make you tear up in the middle of the afternoon. But the experience made me think about neighbors and neighborhoods and how glad I am to live in a place where people care for each other, even when they are near-strangers. And I’ve decided that maybe I should take a little more care getting to know the people in my own neighborhood.