When we moved into our house in 2001, the very first neighbor who welcomed us was Charlie. He and his wife, Pat, have lived in the house across from ours since the developers started building on this street some time in the 1980s.
On that first day he marched across the street to us, stuck out his hand, introduced himself and said, “A wise man once told me that the secret to a successful marriage was to be outside when your wife is in and inside when your wife is out. You’ll likely see me out in my yard a lot!” Then, like a stand-up comedian, he waited for the laugh.
That anecdote was just foreshadowing for what our conversations with Charlie would be like. This man is a storyteller and a connector! Whenever I’m out in our yard and see Charlie step off the curb to cross the street, I know there’s at least one story to be heard. He’s always telling jokes, updating us on his grandchildrens’ lives (they live just a few doors down from us) and telling us about his latest camping trip to Big Bend.
Charlie spent his career as a middle school teacher, and for many years he taught shop class. He retired a few years ago when he turned 70, but once you watch him puttering around his yard and garage for a while, you really get the feeling that Charlie couldn’t have been anything else. Being active and using his hands makes him a happy man, even in retirement.
I believe the visits to show us his wood carvings started around the time of his retirement, in fact. He tells us that he has been whittling for years, but now that he has more time to spend on this hobby, he’s really upped his game. It started out with carvings into planks of wood…like a nicer version of the wood-burning projects I remember Phil and Daddy doing together for Cub Scouts. But he has really progressed in his skill at it. Last year he carved a full eagle out of cedar and gave it to us (it’s displayed in our living room)!
A few weeks ago Charlie took on his biggest project to date. When he noticed that his next-door neighbor had lost a tree to the drought we’ve been experiencing in Texas, he requested permission to carve the stump for them once they cut down the tree. They agreed, and it was really something to watch!
Being an extremely social person, Charlie turned it into a bit of a neighborhood event. He set up an umbrella over the stump to protect himself from the sun and brought out his lawn chair and tools. Then he got to work. But Charlie isn’t your heads-down kind of worker. He’s more of a “Come on over and take a look at what I’m doing here, and then stay a while and visit” type of guy. So, every day that he worked on that project I would see him wave people over to take a look. And they would stay a while to talk. And sometimes people who don’t even know Charlie would stop just to inquire about what he was doing.
It was a sweet, wholesome, summery little event, and I’m so happy I witnessed it. The whole thing made me feel that at any minute a lemonade stand would pop up, groups of kids would start running through the sprinkler together and people would stop locking their doors at night. It felt like community.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if every street had a Charlie?