Practice the Old Art



He wore coveralls over his jeans and flannel shirt. The kind farmers wear when there is snow on the ground, which there was that day. Not a fresh covering, mind you, but the slick kind that can fool a fella, make them fall into the ditch, which somebody in the household had just a few days prior when getting the mail from the mailbox. But the fall wasn’t the problem, the getting back up was, which is often the case with stumbling.

He had a beard, too. A nice full one, the gray of a wire brush. He drops by every now and again to have a cup of coffee, my husband’s mother said. She had a pan of her famous sticky rolls ready to serve along with the coffee. He might have been coming for those as much as for the coffee and the visit with the patriarch of the family.

They’d been headed out the door prior to him pulling up in his rig. Grandpa has a new toy. A gator. He was going to take Miz Shelby for a spin. But they sat back down when they saw the rig pull into the drive. The joy ride would have to wait. Nobody walks out on company come to visit.

The good neighbor took so long getting from the rig through the backdoor the eldest son wondered if he should go see after him. Was something the matter?

No. He’s okay. Just old school, Grandpa said. Won’t come in the house without stopping by the wood pile and bringing in some wood first.

That’s how they heat the farmhouse off Lindley Road in the often below-freezing temperatures that turns fresh snow into an ice slick. Wood stove.

Didn’t matter that there was already a pile of wood stacked near the stove. A good neighbor brings in a couple of sticks of fresh wood when he comes to visit. Brings them in from the pile of wood that Grandpa has already split. Wood logs that his brother, the logger, had delivered especially for him. He’s an old logger himself, having learned the trade alongside his brothers.

We hadn’t thought to bring in wood from the pile when we came inside the house. The only thing we carried inside were plastic gift cards. One for the grocery store. One for the hardware store.

I wish we’d thought to bring in wood, the three of us. Such an easy thing to have done. Carry the wood for the old logger, former missionary, whose strong heart has betrayed him as of late, forcing him to take those pills that thin his blood and leave him even colder than usual.

How come we didn’t bring in wood? I asked as the neighbor placed an armful of wood on the stack by the stove.

I don’t know the old ways, the eldest son said. Didn’t think to do that.

He’s a good boy this eldest son. His siblings call him the favored one. He does for others all the time but a fella has to know the old ways in order to carry them out.

We won’t walk through that backdoor again without carrying wood inside, I bet.

People make all kinds of promises this time of year. Good promises. Hopeful promises. They usually involve some sort of sacrifice. They give up smoking, chocolate, whiskey, slothfulness, technology. The problem with these promises is they leave an empty space that needs filling.

Wouldn’t it be something if we filled that void by learning something new about the old ways? If we all promised to practice the old art of being a good neighbor?

What are some of the old ways you and your family used to do?

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