I was a single girl in my early thirties when I bought—or at least initiated the mortgage on—the house where Dave and I live. Daddy was doing some project or other in the yard before I moved in, and I remember him calling to tell me he had just met my next-door neighbor, a really nice man named Mr. McKinney.
That was the beginning of a very special friendship. Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. McKinney tried, in vain, to persuade Dave and me to call them Ed and Julia, but we could never manage it. We would’ve felt disrespectful. Eventually, they gave up:)
Back in the 90s, my house had a scrappy little detached garage, which Dave later expanded into a shop. His 1963 Buick (aka “Cruiser”) lived here long before he did, and when he would come over to work on it, Mr. McKinney would join him and help out. The two of them put a new convertible top on Cruiser together, and he was forever lending Dave tools from his own shop.
Once a year, we could look for our neighbors’ yard to be covered with Boy Scouts, as Mr. McKinney helped the kids build their soap box derby cars. He was devoted to the Scouts and remained active as long as he could.
He used to come out and pick figs from a tree in my back yard, and Mrs. McKinney would send us a jar or two of the preserves she made. When he started having back trouble one summer, I picked the figs for him. After about the third or fourth bucket, he politely said, “I think we’ll just let the birds have the rest.” In other words, “Enough with the figs!”
Mrs. McKinney once told me that people were always asking her the secret to their long, happy marriage. She looked puzzled by the question and said, “I tell them it’s just unconditional love and mutual respect,” as if those were easy to come by. The two of them absolutely demonstrated—daily—their unconditional love and mutual respect for each other. What a gift to have lived next door to them. Dave and I are both blessed with parents whose marriages set an example for us, but to have these friends right there beside us, daily showing us how to treat your partner in life—that was a blessing we don’t take for granted.
We said goodbye to Mr. McKinney on Friday, after a long illness. He was 89. When I called my mother to tell her, she said, “I’m so sorry—but you know he’s in a better place.” His daughter-in-law told me that, the day he died, in his home, surrounded by family, one of his sons found Mr. McKinney’s favorite hymn on the internet. He placed his iPhone on his dad’s pillow and played it for him. They said they could see Mr. McKinney mouth some of the words before he died: “It is well with my soul.”