Steve Charles—The best thing about living at 615 S. Water Street here in Crawfordsville is the neighbors.
It’s a great house—Professor Ted Bedrick’s old place, and Terri Fyffe’s grandmother’s before that. High ceilings, wood floors, open spaces, and plenty of windows to let in the light. It’s the first place I’ve lived as an adult that really feels like home.
But our neighbors make it better.
Tony and Nancy Kashon welcomed us the day we moved in.
I already knew Nancy; she was assistant to the Dean of the College. Her feigned motherly scolding, no-nonsense approach to most things academic, and dry sense of humor were one of the best reasons for hanging out in that office. A lot of students did that, too. I remember Commencement ceremonies when students grabbed Nancy to have her picture taken with them. Already the mother of four sons, Nancy picked up a bunch more during her years at Wabash. The year of her retirement, faculty, staff, students, and family all sang to her in the west lobby of Center Hall. And even after her retirement, international students still got together in her backyard for a picnic.
I first got to know Tony when he offered his help as we unloaded the moving van, the beginning of a litany of assistance and advice given and tools offered (one of those tools still lies somewhere beneath my deck). We share trips in his Dodge Dakota to pick up the family extension ladder, beers on hot days, celebratory shots of Crown Royal on holidays.
Then there’s the banter across the alley with Nancy about the College, flowers, and grandkids, or with Tony about the lawn, his hobby of clowning (and my fear of clowns), or the squirrels he’s trapped in his backyard and released across town (we disagree about the likelihood of their finding their way back).
On days when my wife, CJ, suddenly disappears from the house, I know I can usually find her in the alley, talking with Nancy or Tony across their split rail fence.
Living alongside one another is like taking a long journey together. You learn what matters most to the other folks. You see the comings and going of longtime friends, parents, grandkids. You watch them take care of their parents. You watch them be there for their kids. You watch them play with their grandkids. The house is full for birthdays and holidays.†
You hear advice—like how much fun those grandkids can be, but how important it is to attend to your own relationship. When you hear that from a man and woman who have been married for 46 years, you pay attention.
You see that building a deck, or a garden, or a garage, is really about creating a space for those you love. For all those rituals and celebrations of being family.
If you’re lucky enough to live next to wise and loving neighbors like Nancy and Tony, you can learn something.
In the past few months they have taught us how love perseveres in the face of adversity. Nancy was diagnosed with cancer last year, barely into retirement. I was moved when they took time to tell us about this in person so that we “wouldn’t have to hear it from others.”
Another lesson in being neighbors.
In the months since then we’ve learned how a woman faces a terrible disease with courage, hope, and faith. We‘ve learned how a man cares for and stands firm for what’s best for the one he loves.
Nancy died Wednesday morning. Knowing time might be short, the whole family had gathered last weekend. A picture of everyone together was taken.
The last time I saw Nancy was on Tuesday. She was being carried to the ambulance through their backyard, the place where her children and grandchildren played, under the tree her grandsons climb, through the gardens she and Tony tended, the lawn Tony always mows several days before I get to mine. That space they had created for those they love. She was sitting up, looking forward, the sun on her face.
In the cold of winter this year after one of her chemotherapy sessions, she’d admitted how tired she was of the cold, how she couldn’t wait for spring and summer and those warm breezes.
“And I want to see that grandson of yours running around your backyard,” she said. I was touched that he meant something to her, that she was looking forward to a milestone in his life. I kept that in mind this spring as I churned and chopped up the soil and planted bags of seed to get grass to grow in our previously mostly barren yard.
She couldn’t see him, but as the paramedics wheeled Nancy to the ambulance, our grandson Myca was sitting on a blanket, his first time really playing on that new grass. From where I stood on the deck I could see both Nancy and Myca. It’s an image I am holding in my memory by writing this, an image I’ll recall when I watch Myca play, certainly on the day he first runs there. A reminder to tell him that the best thing about the house he lives in is the neighbors.
Note: Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, June 23 at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church. Friends may call from 6-8:00 p.m. Sunday evening and from 10-11 a.m. Monday morning. Online condolences can be sent to huntandson.com.