Last week I left off on the second day after Lolly and I moved into our little place in Pine. It was the coldest, wettest March I have ever seen. The road outside the house was a mix of hard-packed snow, ice and slush, with water flowing down the road and straight across our mud bog front yard. The skies were gray, and had been gray for a week. The night before, we had arrived in a driving sleet storm and had camped out in sleeping bags in the living room beside a wood-fired stove and a worrisomely small stack of firewood. Our first day here was not an auspicious start to a happy retired life under the Rim, and the morning of Day Two, as we continued unpacking, everything was cold, gray and soggy.
Except our spirits.
Ralph, our next-door neighbor, a jewel, had helped us get everything inside the day before, and was back again. As he helped us unpack, a tap came at our front door. We answered it and there stood another jewel: Jewel Sparks, with a big smile and a home-baked loaf cake, a house warming gift from Jewel and her husband, Russ. Jewel welcomed us to Pine, and she too stayed to help until she had to go home to make lunch. And as she was leaving, here came yet another neighbor, this one burdened by a huge armload of firewood. It wasn’t until he had made a dozen trips and had filled our back porch with enough wood to last us a month that I even managed to get his name: Leonardo DaVinci.
What can I say? Three neighbors. Three home runs. And yet, hard as it may be to believe, things got better.
One of the first matters I had to address as soon we got the house livable was the stream flowing off the road, across our yard, around the house, through the back yard, and off to where I had no idea. Our road is unpaved, something we prefer because we didn’t move here to live in a transplanted chunk of city. However, that March had been so wet that the wheels of the moving van had grooved our front yard, leaving deep ruts that directed every drop coming down the street right across our place.
Ralph King came over as I was standing outside scratching my head and deciding what to do about the river flowing by. I asked him where up here, if anywhere, I could find some gravel to build a berm, and was happy to find that Payson Concrete had a gravel yard right in Pine. At Payson Concrete I found just the right gravel and asked the female clerk if they could deliver two yards over to our place.
Her face fell. “Don’t you have a pickup or something?”
“Sorry. Just my little old Bronco.”
“My! I hate to see you pay a delivery charge for just two yards of gravel. Where’s your place located?”
When I told her my where our house was, she said, “Oh, that’s not far from the gravel pit. Just drive over there and ask Fred to use his backhoe to bring a couple of yards over for you.”
“Okay. Sounds great. Do I pay him or you?”
“Oh, that’s all right. There won’t be any charge.”
A little stunned, I drove home to tell Lolly what she had said. Ralph was there helping Lolly put up a curtain rod, and he laughed when I told Lolly that I didn’t feel right about taking advantage of someone’s good will. “You’re gonna have to get used to living up here,” Ralph told us. “It ain’t like the Valley. People up here help each other.”
“I just hate taking advantage of people,” I told him.
He laughed again and told me that if I felt so bad about it we could drive over there with his pickup. We did, and when I thanked the woman at the desk for her kind offer, but told her my next-door neighbor had said we could use his pickup, she took one look at Ralph and told me I had made a good choice of neighbors.
Ralph and I drove home with a pickup load of gravel, the first of eight loads it turned out — not paid for as yet. “Oh,” I’d been told, “we can just settle up after you’re sure you’ve got all you need.” We drove off with no paperwork, no signatures, none of the city formalities I was used to. What a breath of fresh air!
Well, we got moved in, built a berm, paid for the gravel on the fourth day of work, found the Ponderosa Market, bought a pair of t-bones at a great price and charcoal broiled them, found Uncle Tom’s place up at the other end of town the day after that and ate some take-out pizza to which I am now addicted, and began settling in for what was to be many happy years of turning our little place into what we had dreamed of for many years — our final home, the place we will live out the remainder of our days. But if you think Pine had finished breaking in us city folks, you’re wrong.
We’re still learning. I suppose we’ll go on learning until we are not only in the Rim Country, but are a part of it in a very literal way. Ralph is gone now. So are Jewel and Russ, and some of the other folks who have made our years up here the best of our lives. Leonardo? Over 90 and still going strong. Yes, we are still learning, but there is one special thing all this has taught us.
Let’s talk about it next week, Johnny.