On a small porch, in front of small house, there is a small bench. I never paid too much attention to it before. It faded into the background of life’s canvas like so many things do. It’s quiet today. It’s quiet every day.
My neighbor Bill lives here. Of course his name is Bill. Perfect really; a simple name for a simple man. Bill is almost 80. He speaks with a southern drawl that’s as thick as his glasses. He has thinning, snow-white hair.
His leathery skin suggests that he has spent his share of time on the golf course. Like that old small bench, he’s a bit weathered but still strong. His laugh is contagious. I liked him right away. He’s the neighbor everyone should have. Need a wrench, an extension cord, a screwdriver? Check with Bill.
For years I have watched Bill and his wife Jackie’s routine. They are that cute old couple you’ve seen in the park or at the restaurant. They have raised their kids. They have made their living. The twilight years have arrived. Each and every day, their garage door opens and the Cadillac slowly backs out. Bill carefully navigates the narrow driveway. Jackie is dressed in a simple white sweater, her grey, curly hair neatly in place. She waves to my little girls as the car slowly pulls away.
Countless times I have come home from work and Bill and Jackie are on that bench. It’s hot. The lawn is half mowed. There’s Bill wiping his forehead and sipping lemonade with his bride of more than 50 years. Talking. Always talking.
Only now, it’s quiet. It’s quiet every day.
Jackie’s body is failing. First came the walker, then the wheelchair. She suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease. We watched it progress rapidly. She’s often confused and doesn’t remember who my daughters are. Bill takes care of her, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. He helps bathe and dress her. He cuts and combs her hair. One day, she couldn’t stop crying. She kept repeating over and over again, “I want to go home, where I grew up. I want to go home.” Bill thought for a moment, smiled, helped her into the car and drove to Kentucky. He probably could have driven her around the block. He drove her to Kentucky.
After suffering a mild stroke and heart attack, Jackie is now in a care facility. One day, after Bill returned home alone, he and I were talking in his driveway. He looked at me with glassy eyes, his voice cracking. “She’s never coming home,” he said and he looked off in the distance. He leaves the house at 7am and returns at 9pm every day. He’s with her every minute in between. She has her moments of awakening. I hear she even sang “Amazing Grace” to the nurses last week.
Tonight, after mowing Bill’s lawn, I’m sitting on that small bench, on a small porch, in front of a small house. I’m thinking about the countless conversations the two of them had right here. I’m thinking about his promise to her; his commitment, his love. I’m thinking about an everyday hero—one we don’t often notice because he, like that ol’ bench, fades into the background of life’s canvas.