He was the keeper of the neighborhood. A tall, thin man with white hair who stood watch at his post on the front porch while smoking a cigar. Dan and his wife Helen live in the downstairs apartment and silently tolerate my piano playing, furniture rearranging, and that phase when I attempted to do an aerobic exercise DVD once a day. They never say a word when I turn the radio up late at night and clean house, and don't even mind that my dog barks endlessly with every buzz of the door bell.
Dan lit my stove pilot light when it blew out and I was too afraid and inexperienced with gas ovens to do it myself. I once shattered a heavy, glass cooking pan on the floor and 30 seconds later, Dan knocked on my door to make sure I was okay. He doesn't play with the neighborhood kids, but he's always on guard, looking out for them, ready to tell them to stay back from the street, and keeping track of the strangers that walk by on the sidewalk. He and his wife know all the neighbors, their kids, their dogs. And I always smiled to myself and felt safe when I saw him outside, watching over everything.
It's the usual neighborly chit chat that we exchanged, to and from the laundry room, or walking my dog every morning. The weather, the grass, the traffic. And I always welcomed it with Dan and Helen, wishing I could offer more to repay them for the comfort I felt knowing they were downstairs.
It was during one of these familiar encounters when Helen mentioned that Dan had a heart attack. It was as if she told me her daisies had dried up.
"Morning Helen, isn't it warm today?"
"It is. Dan's in the hospital. He had a heart attack."
Stuttering, I tried to find the 'right' words to say. Is there anything I can do? We're praying for you. I felt helpless. We're not close enough to wait with her at the hospital, yet not a mere acquaintance that can do nothing. My solution was banana bread. That's something a neighbor might do, offer food. And we did eventually visit at the hospital.
But it was a long and difficult journey for Dan to recover. For months, he was absent from his front porch post. The only contact we made during that time, was when his screen door was open and I passed by, "Hi Beth!" he would call through the door. The screen was black and I couldn't see anything through it, but I always called back as cheerfully as I could, "Hi Dan!" I never wondered to anyone but Eddie, when would Dan return to his spot? Will we see him out there again?
Absentmindedly, I took the trash out one evening. I didn't even notice until my way back inside, a figure on the porch. "Dan!" With the help of his wife, he made his way outside to enjoy the evening air. The outings became more and more frequent and it is no longer uncommon to see his lean frame and white hair, sitting tall and proud after all he's endured. Though the cigars are absent now, and he sits rather than stands, he has returned to his rightful place as the keeper of the neighborhood.