As a parent, you try to teach your kids not to put too much into first impressions. Fortunately, we will always have the story of our first California neighbors, the Jacksons, to remind our girls of that.
We met Dick in the fall of 2007, shortly after we had moved from Seattle to Walnut Creek. Soon after we moved into our new home, we happened to have a visitor that came down from Seattle with her young son, who was Iris’ playmate in Seattle. Still getting reacquainted with Northern California, it was great to have old familiar faces join us for an afternoon, especially for Iris. When everyone ventured outside, Iris and her friend went over towards our neighbor’s yard where there were a bunch of wood chips. For some odd reason, they start picking them up and throwing them. It was out of character for both kids, but that’s what a new environment can do. Soon after, the owner of the house came out and said “hey there, I love children, really I do. But please, it’s a pain for me to deal with these wood chips and chasing them down and they’re really expensive. Could you ask the kids to please stop?” He wasn’t exactly the angry old man (in fact, he really couldn’t have been nicer and Iris was doing something she shouldn’t have), but needless to say, it was an inauspicious start with our neighbors. Given we never got to know many of our neighbors in Seattle and the ones we did no work very friendly, it looked like we be stuck again.
But there in lies the fallacy of first impressions.
For the next five years, Dick and Shirley were a gift to our family. They were like a free set of extra grandparents.Their patience with our girls was wonderful. Iris, who was always skeptical of other people, would always gravitate towards the Jackson house whenever we walked outside. Countless times, she would walk up the driveway and want to go inside. And the Jacksons would never refuse our need to barge in. Inevitably, Cherise, the girls, and Shirley would go in one room and Dick and I would be in another. He would offer me a beer and I’d have no choice but to accept. We talked about everything from our respective careers to the California government budget crisis to interesting things that were happening in the sports world. He shared his Idaho stories and I shared my New Jersey stories. There were times when I’d marvel at the fact that I could enjoy myself so thoroughly with a guy 30 years older than me. I can still hear that subtle drawl as we debated whether California would go declare bankruptcy (hey Dick, I told you California would bounce back). I heard about what Walnut Creek was like when there were actually walnut trees here. I knew more about his kids than some of my close friends and he knew all about my dad before my dad moved out here. By the time my dad did make it out to live in California, he worshiped Dick and Shirley. The kindness and respect they’d showed him on every meeting won him over, including the story about the time he was locked out of his apartment and we weren’t home, so he went over to Dick and Shirley’s place to hang out. They took him in without flinching and from that day on, anytime Dick and Shirley came up, I can still recall my father’s thick Indian accent saying “they are both the most wonderful people. You are so lucky to have neighbors like that.” My dad was a wise man.
A few years later, we flew back to Seattle to meet up with old friends, including the ones that were visiting us when we first met Dick. The topic turned to our lives in Walnut Creek and our friend said “oh yeah, that guy next-door. What a pain he must be. ” Cherise quickly responded, “actually, no, he and his wife have been great. ” At that point, I jumped in and said “I’d say they are the greatest thing about living in Walnut Creek. They’re a big reason why we don’t even want to move.”
But eventually, we did move–and so did Dick and Shirley. We didn’t get to see Dick very much over these last couple of years, but I’m still going to miss him. I’ll miss the way he pronounced my daughter’s name “Ah-res”. I’ll miss the way we’d pass each other on the Iron Horse Trail when I was going for a long run and he was going for a long walk. I’ll miss the way he and Shirley would send subtle glances to one another in a way that only two true life partners could do. You can never predict where and how people will change your life. All you can do is be grateful for their presence and remember them when they’re gone. And Dick will never be forgotten