On the day that I met your wife, she told me that the two of you had been married for sixty-five years and were still madly in love. She confessed that sometimes you told her to check the mailbox and instead of the usual handful of advertisements and credit card applications, there would be a love letter. When she told me that, I told my own husband that the bar had been raised.
Your wife told me that you swept her off her feet in the library of your university. She told me you became a dentist and later flew helicopters in the war. She told me that when she was stricken with polio, you swore you'd find a cure.
On the day we became neighbors, you gave us a handful of toothbrushes and a business card with your name and the Rotary symbol. You offered to let us use your phone until ours was connected. You wore a jacket with elbow patches, a collared shirt and a bolo tie, which over the year of our friendship, I came to recognize as your public uniform. You dressed up for lunch at the Tam O'Shanter or a visit to the School for the Blind. At home, you wore a cardigan sweater and sometimes slippers.
On sunny days, you moved a white, plastic lawn chair from your front stoop to the grass beneath your lemon tree. You'd sit in this chair, blinking in the sun like a cat. Cat like, you would often succumb to the warmth and nap.
You were in this chair on the day we landscaped our front yard. My friend Libby and I crawled around on the ground, digging holes for tiny sprigs of Dyamondia and you looked over from time to time and smiled.
"I'm really proud of you girls," you said.
We lugged five gallon pots and hauled wheelbarrows full of soil. We wiped our dirty faces and stood, gripping the handles of our shovels.
"It's going to be beautiful," you said.
And it is. Just a year later, Kangaroo Paws reach out velvety fingers, the Dyamondia has made a shaggy carpet between the pavers and has begun to offer bright yellow flowers to the spring sky.
You always took the time to ask after our children. You told us we were wonderful parents. At the holidays, you called and asked my husband to come pick up a gigantic fruit basket, a gift so large, it was impossible for you to deliver yourself.
I baked apple muffins and sent my kids over with plates of cookies or fresh latkes still warm from the stove. You complimented my cooking and praised the manners of my daughter and son.
When I look back on this year of knowing you, there is not a single exchange between us that was not filled with kindness and good will.
I know from my conversations with your wife that your life was extraordinary. You travelled to wonderful places, met amazing people and used your energies to make the world a better place. You loved and were loved so well.
My husband went out yesterday when we saw the ambulance. I stayed inside to keep our daughter busy. While she spread purple glitter across a sheet of paper, I saw my husband wrap his arm around your wife. I saw the paramedics move you carefully down the drive.
You didn't come home.
I feel lucky, fellow New Mexican, to have known you.
Safe travels, dear neighbor. I miss you already.