We’ve been neighbors since I moved into this house—as a clueless single-woman homeowner back then. She and her sweet husband, who passed away last year, took me under wing and looked after me. And they were just as good to Dave. We hated to see that “For Sale” sign go up in their yard. But it was time for her to move closer to her family.
First, they helped her sort through 60 some odd years of belongings. Then came the estate sale, which she stayed away from. I think it was just too sad to see all of her things laid out like that. (After the sale, I told her that if she wanted to see her things again, she could just come to my house because I bought as much of her hand-painted china as I could, plus two table cloths . . . things that reminded me of her and would look just fine with the beautiful pieces she had already given me.)
So if the selling made her sad, why did the sale make her happy? She got a letter from the new lady of the house—a young wife and mother who told my friend how thrilled she was to get to raise her children in such a great house, how much they would enjoy playing in the yard and sitting by the fireplace, and how they promised to take good care of the home that had meant so much to its previous owners.
Whenever we move to a new chapter in life, I think we all want to be able to look back and feel that what came before meant something. We want to leave something of value for whoever’s coming along behind us. I used to live for big feature stories in the magazine, but I’ve had more than my share of them (in my advanced years), and I can honestly say that I now get the most satisfaction from coaching and encouraging young writers who are just taking on their first big assignments—just as my predecessors coached and encouraged me. Passing the torch, I guess.
Years ago, I interviewed a wonderful storyteller named Betty Crawford in North Carolina. Betty was in her eighties and had grown up spending her summers at her grandparents’ cottage on the Outer Banks. I remember she told me that she and the other children on the islands learned how to form a human chain, joining hands for strength whenever a playmate got caught in the strong current and needed to be pulled out.
That image stayed with me because I think each of us is part of our own human chain, forever connected to the people we meet and grow to love on our journey—even when they’re no longer right next door.