Neighboring Well

By Charlotte Gleason

When we first moved to our home on Buck Road, we did so rather disbelievingly. A few months earlier, we had been mentally moving ourselves to Western Pennsylvania with its small towns and open spaces; instead, God placed us in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He provided us with land and a home with “character,” but I still noticed the fenced yards, the tangle of powerlines, and the sound of the train when it passed across the road. I wasn’t sure if it would ever feel like home to me.

We were surprised one afternoon by a petite woman in her 70’s carrying a sponge cake topped with an assortment of berries and heavy whipped cream. She welcomed us with her German accent and pointed to her house; her manicured yard bordered our secret garden.

Several days later, we trooped over to return the cake plate and say thank you. When we arrived, we were greeted by Margaret and Fritz: she stood on the patio looking up while Fritz climbed down from the roof of his house with more agility than most adolescents. He smiled and reached for his Heineken in one fluid motion. Our family was smitten, and they became Omi and Opa.

Two years later, Fritz died after a sudden and unexpected cancer diagnosis. No one expected this from such stout blood, especially Margaret. But she remained in the house where she had lived for 45 years. We began to visit her more frequently. Reid and Meg would wonder over to her porch to play games. She joined us for backyard picnics. We attended her church dinners. And we tried to make it easy for her to live in her large home with its ample yard. She compensated us for mowing her lawn and raking her leaves with cases of German beer. When she occasionally fretted that we “did too much,” we made it clear that our motivation was selfish: we didn’t want her to move.

Last week, Omi made her usual trek from her porch to our back door. She entered on the verge of tears, handing us a bag of chocolate like a peace offering. An apartment at a retirement community had become available more quickly than she had expected; she would be moving in June. We knew she wouldn’t be far away, but we also knew we would miss our neighbor. After hugs, we watched her walk from our backyard to her back porch.

I can think of numerous Bible passages that tell us to respect the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), to care for the widowed (1 Timothy 5), and I can think of even more passages that command us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). And I suppose we did these things. But the reason for my story is to simply celebrate that we have been on the receiving end of a good neighbor. I entered into her life thinking of all I had to offer, but I now see how Omi showed us how to “neighbor” well.