We have lived in our house for almost 7 years. We’ve added on a 16×30 foot deck; we’ve added board and batten in our bedroom; we’ve painted walls a couple of times; we’ve been through countless living room rugs; and we’ve rearranged our kitchen cabinets no less than 5 times. I really love our house and all of the work and projects we’ve done.
But I think my favorite work that we’ve done in our home is caring for our neighbors.
About a month after moving into our house, my husband and I were outside when our neighbors to the west happened to also be outside. They were an elderly couple, and we found ourselves talking to them for 45 minutes to an hour. The woman was from France (with the best accent), and they had met as pen-pals when they were in their late teens/young adulthood. Her husband, an American, asked to be stationed in France during the war so he could meet his pen-pal – now wife! They were the cutest couple and Josie, the woman, left us with this advice: “If there is something you want to do, do it now. Don’t wait. Don’t say no.”
That night we got a call asking if we wanted Pittsburgh Penguin playoff tickets. So taking Josie’s advice, we said yes. We would often recall that advice from Josie as we navigated the next couple of years as first time parents, but we rarely saw our friendly neighbors to the west – other than when we’d look out our window and see the two of them planting flowers in the Spring or raking OUR leaves (from their tree in our yard… we tried to stop them, I promise) in the Fall. Basically, we knew of them, we liked to see what they were up to, but never really interacted with them.
During the fall of 2020, we happened to be outside one evening and we saw Josie and Dominic on their side porch with masks on. Soon, we watched them and their adult children enjoy a pancake dinner on the porch. It made me smile, and is a scene I’ll never forget.
In May of 2021, we were outside and I heard a small voice say, “Erin! Erin!” I looked up to see Josie trying to get my attention. When I went over to her porch, she shared with me that her husband was in the hospital, and would shortly be moved into hospice care. She was so upset, and after visiting with her for a bit and telling her we’d pray for Dom, I crossed the 20 feet back over to our house. A few weeks went by, when again, I heard a small voice calling for me. I went over to Josie’s porch, and she shared with me that Dom had passed away on Mother’s Day. The conversation from then on hasn’t really stopped.
Our family has continued to cross the 20 feet over to Josie’s porch and into her home many, many times. There was a point (after she fractured her shoulder) where I would go to her home every afternoon or evening to make her soup – Progresso Broccoli Cheddar soup with a side of hot chocolate was her version of a treat. We’ve taken her to doctor’s appointments, purchased groceries, picked up prescriptions, taken out her trash (every week!), gotten her mail, laughed with her, picked her up, made sure she had her cane, and on and on. She even memorized our phone numbers! But I think my favorite thing to do for Josie, is to simply listen to her. More often than not, Josie just needs company. She always shares the most interesting stories from her life in Paris, her life with Dom, and what it was like “back then”. When I was pregnant with our third child, she would be so worried about me any time I showed up at her house. She was scared I would trip on the walk back over, or was doing too much for her rather than taking it easy. She also knew the pain I was going through at the time and kept reminding me, “just think of that sweet baby in there. You’ll forget soon!”
She also cares so deeply for our children. She always wants to give them treats, small gifts, and loves to take an interest in what they are interested in. Our kids love going over to Josie’s – maybe it’s just because the TV is always on and they’ll probably leave with something – but they never hesitate when we ask if they want to go to Josie’s house.
When I think back to our first conversation with Josie and Dominic, I don’t think I even considered this being our reality. In a way, we’ve taken her under our wing. We are always ready to help should she need it, and we always make it a point to get over there on days that we know she may need some company. Back then, they were just the elderly neighbors with a cool story. Now, I genuinely worry about Josie and pray for her daily – both in thanksgiving and for her needs. She’s truly our “Granma Josie”, as she calls herself in every card she gives us.
I think sometimes we think that we have to go searching for people to serve or to help. Certainly, homeless shelters, nursing homes, hospitals, and other similar places all need people to show up and be a friendly face or serve those who need it most. As we start 2024, I’d like to encourage you to look at those closest to you – whether that’s your neighbors, your coworkers, the other people in the school pick-up line, or those you always sit by at church – and see if there’s a way you can serve or care for them. People are in need everywhere. Sometimes, we just have to look at what’s directly in front of us – or 20 feet to the west of us.