The Right Kind Of Nosy Neighbor

A DELIGHTFUL young lady graces the property across the way, and what with her school hours and the substantial philanthropic burden that my schedule imposes, I had not seen her lately.

I'm speaking of last March, and the snowbanks prevented either of us from direct visual attention. But as March waned, we had a heat wave that lifted the thermometer to 10 below for two days together, and that evening Miss Robina tingled my telephone alarm and asked, "Are you all right?"

It was quite late - for me.

I had taken a roulade with red cabbage support, a hot potato salad, some "riz" biscuits, a small snatch of green peas, a slice of pumpernickel. Dozing after this exercise in my easy chair I had softly dreamed that I was going back to Freudenstadt and was distantly content.

So at 7:30, going on 8, I bade the bustling world my fondest farewell, nipped into my Doctor Dentons, and entered into the blissful state of well-earned repose. It was then that Miss Robina signaled, and I was obliged to give her the absolute truth - yes, I was all right.

Miss Robina said, "Well, I'm glad!"

I said I was equally delighted, and what might I do for her?

She said, "You left your shop light on, and I'm just checking."

The warm spell had beguiled me. I had not done a tap in my workshop since October had called for mittens, and now with a near-springlike salubrity I got carried away. I had reinforced the legs on a lovely mahogany coffee table that had been a wedding gift back in 1932 and had lost its stability sometime back when, I surmise, one of the grandchildren stood on it to hang decorations for Grammy's 80th birthday.

This small chore needed delicate work, for I had to ribbon-saw the pieces to fit the contour and then drill all the screw holes at curious angles. I was pleased that job was done, and understandably went from shop to house when the tocsin boomed without pulling the string on my illumination. Hence Robina concerned for my situation.

I told the young lady that as she grows older, which she is about to do, she will find that one of the most startling moments she will have will come when she realizes, one golden day, that simple things she used as a child, perhaps just after they were invented, have suddenly and most unexpectedly become priceless antiques. Such, I said, as this beautiful mahogany table, which may have cost as much as $15 when loving friends sent it to celebrate our nuptials 61 years ago.

The springtimes became autumns, the years became decades, and while nobody was giving the little table a thought it sat there before the long divan, bearing now a bowl of peanuts, now a rosebud, now an advent wreath, and perhaps anon a stack of New Yorkers.

It takes a heap o'living to make a house a home, and there was that little table acquiring antiquity.

I remember Miss Robina interrupted to say she just happened to notice and thought she'd call. I told her I wouldn't bother to dress and go put out the light now, but first thing in the morning I'd pull the string. Besides, I said, I am a kind and generous man, and the Central Maine Power Company is verging on fiscal failure and needs the money. Miss Robina got a good laugh out of that one.

Then I said I had no intention of discouraging her in this kind of neighborly vigil. Out here in our relative wilderness it is good manners to keep an eye on neighbors and be sure from time to time that they are, as she put it, "all right." If, for instance, you notice a tree has crushed a piazza, or a henhouse is giving off smoke, the words "snoop" or "nosy" don't apply. That is, we're glad for Robinas.

So I told her I got my little table repaired so it can go back into service. I told her the day would come when she would find that something she thought nothing of now would fetch fantastic funds at a flea market.

But, I said, I guess there's more to it than that. When you find, I told Robina, that something you cherish, like a mahogany table, has come so far it needs repairing, it's more than enough to excuse you for forgetting a light.

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