Feeding my starving children and a dead neighbor

to do list
to do list (Photo credit: mister ebby)

Crass title. But, unfortunately, an all-too-true title.

My good intentions got me nowhere this week.

They say intention matters but I’m more of a “where the rubber hits the road” kind of gal. If you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t hem and haw about how you’re planning to do it, meant to do it, had every good intention of doing it.

In revealing this bias, you can probably already guess that since I’m as human as the next gal, I sometimes disappoint myself in this respect. I’m usually a woman of action but I take on too much.

There are times when this translates into disappointing loved ones with my lack of action on something.  If I commit to you, I’ll show up. But I sometimes feel I fall short on the small things—sending that card or making the phone call to let you know I care. Bothers the hell out of me but we all have our messy bits to work on.

Yesterday, I took my son to a workshop to learn more about Feed My Starving Children, a program we’ll be participating in to help feed the poor. Ironically, I had not fed my own child before we left, so as we drove there, he complained of hunger. You’d think when headed to a program about feeding hungry children that I could feed my own first.

During the workshop, the leaders talked about the greatest commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself. It hit me that I needed to do this in a very real way, as an older neighbor had been in and out of the hospital over the past few months. His wife was slowly retreating into the altered reality of Alzheimer’s and his daughter (with a large family of her own) was trying to keep her parents supplied with dinners.

I had been talking to my sons about making this neighbor some chili—something I knew he liked—now that cooler weather was upon us. I’d been saying this for a few weeks, though. And, there always seemed to be something else taking priority within our schedule.

After the workshop, I went to the store and got everything I needed, resolving that today was the day we’d make Hugh and his wife some chili, cornbread and a blackberry tart. No more putting it off.

Soon after I pulled into the driveway from the store, another neighbor stopped over. “Did you hear about Hugh?” he asked.

“Yes—I heard he was going to head into hospice care,” I said. I teared up. “He’s always been so good to us. I’m glad he has a few months left so we can be good to him and say goodbye.”

“He’s dead,” my neighbor said. A bit unceremoniously. And went on to try to give me details he truly didn’t have—but no matter, I was no longer listening.

Dead? Only a couple of days after being told he had months?

And there went my good intentions. My useless good intentions. You can’t make chili for a dead man.

I thought back to moving into this house, about 14 years ago. How we met Hugh after he introduced himself. He waited awhile before doing so. I think he was checking us out to see if we were “good people”, as he liked to say.

When he saw us working every free moment on the house and yard, fixing both up, he figured we must be ok. If you didn’t have a work ethic, you weren’t getting the time of day from Hugh. He was old school.

He went on to rescue us after a complete crook bilked us out of a few thousand dollars, never finishing our basement (never even starting it) as he contracted to do. We were naïve first-time homeowners and while Hugh swore he had retired from carpentry, he took pity on us. He created a gorgeous finished basement for us over many weeks—whistling his way through his work and trying to dodge my toddler, who followed him around and called him “Papa”. He was a dead ringer for my father.

In the years that followed, Hugh showed my then husband how to lay flooring, use a circular saw and a host of other things. Never one to sugarcoat it, he’d say, “Wow—you’re really bad at some of this, you know?” But, my ex learned and became much more skilled under Hugh’s tutelage.

After my divorce, Hugh would make a special effort to come outside and say hello when he saw me walking my dog. Bailey loved him and it was great to see this crusty guy get a bit soft with her.

I had no idea my last conversation with him was our final conversation. It now seems so mundane. He told me he’d had a “bad spell”. That he was itching to get to work on projects around the house. He complained for the umpteenth time about his neighbor’s tree leaning into his yard—and again said he was just going to have it cut down, “on my property or not.”

He always ended our conversation with, “You doing ok?” And I would have to fight to hold back tears because he was so much like my father—they don’t make them like that anymore. And I would always say, “I’m a steel magnolia, Hugh. You know that.”

To which he’d respond, “Yes you are.”

So I guess, in true steel magnolia fashion, I’ll continue to have a few good cries over losing such a good soul—and then I’ll make that chili for someone else that could really use a hand right now.

I won’t wait. Because I’ve been reminded that good intentions don’t really mean a damn. If your kids are starving, feed them. If the world’s children are starving, feed them. And if someone could use a helping hand, give it now.

Hugh’s daughter told me that whenever my name came up, he’d say, “She’s good people.”

Unfortunately, in this instance, not as good as I would have liked.



22 Comments Add yours

  1. Dale says:

    I am so guilty of that coulda, shoulda, woulda thing myself.
    Don’t you dare knock yourself over on this one. Hugh would be the first to understand.

    1. candidkay says:

      I hope so! He was a tough old bird, pretty exacting:). With a heart of gold. Thanks for kind words–a good reminder to myself!

      1. Dale says:

        I am sure of it. And he’s not here to dispute me so my word is gold 😉

  2. The first week after my husband left me my book-keeper asked me to drop by his place have a coffee with him but I felt too raw.
    Two years later he was diagnosed with cancer. I visited him. He said he was terminal and had a few months. Three days later he was dead.
    I never did get that coffee. Sometimes we just have to seize the day or the day is gone.

  3. this is a marvelous portrait. hugh sounds like a bodhisattva in disguise. i’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye to him. isn’t it annoying how life sometimes kicks us in the ass like that? thanks, by the way, for liking my poem!

    1. candidkay says:

      You put it well–it IS annoying when life kicks us in the ass like that! I never that of him as a bodhisattva–and I know he’d laugh at the designation–but perhaps you’re right:).

  4. Grady Meston says:

    You know how to tell a great story 🙂 Well done.

    1. candidkay says:

      As do you, Grady. Right back ‘atcha.

  5. Just wanted to give you a hug and tell you not to be so hard on yourself. We’re all human. But I love the thought of your making the chili and giving it to someone else who needs it.

    I would bet that now that Hugh is gone, the house will be empty of inhabitants. And if the family decides to sell the house, at some point someone will have to empty the contents. As someone who just did this to my own parent’s house just last spring, having a neighbor around to bring over some food, is a very welcome thing.

  6. A very sweet, moving piece. Sorry for your loss, and dont be too hard on yourself – you werent to know he would go so quickly.

    1. candidkay says:

      And truthfully, I’m glad he did go so quickly. He would have hated to be bedridden for any length of time.

      1. Then that is something to be grateful for.:)

  7. shelly says:

    Ok, you got me again. It is such a good message that I think most of us wish we could be better at. Not putting off what we should do now. Don’t pull out that Catholic guilt, I am sure that you were a wonderful neighbor and friend through the years. As usual, beautifully written.

    1. candidkay says:

      Ah yes, the Catholic guilt. Thanks for the reminder–I will try to focus on big pic rather than last few days.

  8. Tears from me too. What a beautifully moving piece. But don’t be too hard on yourself…sometimes our timing is out but that doesn’t mean you ar not good people. You are. I can see that from here too!

    1. candidkay says:

      I hear you. I just wish my timing had been a bit more “on.”

  9. eleanor says:

    Oh gosh you are making me cry over here. Wonderful story.

    1. candidkay says:

      Again–nicest thing you can say to a writer is she made you laugh or cry . . .

  10. Traci says:

    You are totally “good people” and Hugh obviously knew good people when he saw one! I believe he also knew that you thought he was “good people” too! Hugs and prayers to you my friend for your loss!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks–isn’t it funny how we all have somewhat of a radar for this?

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