Friday, September 02, 2005

Good neighbors

As we drive down Dad's street, slowly cruising past the remains of our neighbors, honking and waving, a muffled hallelujah follows in our wake. It is like The Second Coming on top of Mardis Gras on top of Christmas. People run up to us as we get out of the cars. Everyone smiling, their eyes lit up, holding their breath like their birthday cake is being lit. We throw open the trunks and they come unglued. Everyone is shouting and clapping and thanking us and shaking my father's hand and telling us how much they appreciate what we've done. How they were running on fumes. How they'll bring us dinner tonight. How they'll go with us on the next run. How they can't believe all the gas we were able to get.

And my father, who paid for every drop, doesn't accept a single cent from anyone. He pushes their money back to them and politely declines. He says not to worry about it. He doesn't need to be paid. This is what neighbors do, he says. Shakes his head every time somebody pulls out money. No, thank you. He won't have it. Not when people need money for other things like rebuilding or paying for food once the donations dry up and the jobs are all gone.

I know The Old Man. Their smiles are all he wants. To know that he made a difference in their lives. For them and their children. Every time he steps out of his house, they'll be thanking him for weeks. And he knows if he ever needs anything, they will be there to help. Money can't buy that.

When everything is handed out and everyone has gone back to their homes to share the good news, Dad puts his arm around me. Squeezes my shoulder with one old, tanned hand and looks at me. "You done good, kiddo," he says. "You done real good."

And we go find Mom. She'll have something cooked for us. The tubs will be filled. There will be tall, cold glasses of sweat tea. And she probably has the floor cleared so I can collapse.

But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep.

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