February 1, 2007


When I was a kid, growing up in Texas, our neighbor was a guy named Harold. He lived in the corner house with the insanely well-manicured wrap-around lawn. Harold was an older guy, probably around 65 when we moved away, but when you're a kid, anything older than 50 seems ancient.

Looking back on him now, Harold was a funny little man. He was short, a little pudgy and quite bald. He wore little glasses, khaki pants - rarely shorts despite Houston's famous climatological duo, heat and humidity - and short-sleeved button-down shirt. His appearance was neat, in the true sense of the word, and slightly quirky. Perhaps eccentric. He was quiet, diminutive, but was a large presence. Case in point - Harold was married yet, despite living next door to them for fifteen years, I can't remember her at all. Their children, a daughter and a son, were both grown and lived elsewhere in Texas. I rarely saw them.

Harold had some mad skills, chief among them growing things and fixing things. Harold's lawn was golf-course quality, green and immaculate. He was rarely inside. On sunny days and evenings, he tended to his lawn. Or his roses. Harold, like my family, was the first owner of his house. When he moved in, he quickly divided his backyard into two distinct sections. The first, closest to the house, was a normal, everyday lawn. The second section, the furthest back, was entered through a small gate and was lined with rose bushes. Harold crafted a maze of flowerbeds that wrapped around the back yard. It was a relatively small space but the quantity of roses it held was vast. The raised flower beds were, like his yard, pristine, each section containing a hand-built sprinkler system. To say he was enthusiastic about his roses would be an understatement.

Harold could fix anything with a motor. Or, rather, I suspect he could actually fix anything at all. Almost all the equipment he used to maintain his yard was at least 20 years old. His lawnmower was ancient as was the giant vacuum device he had to pick up lawn clippings. Perhaps that helps explain why he drove a 1964 Volkswagen Bug from the time we first met him until the time we moved.

I've suspected for quite a while that Harold was the father my dad never had. Sure, my grandfather existed but my grandparents didn't live close nor was my grandfather a warm guy. Had he been around the corner or down the street, he never would have been one of those people you could just have a beer with in the backyard. My parents were younger than I am now when they moved into that house. They latched on to Harold and he latched on to them. He helped my dad fix stuff and gave him plenty of lawn advice. My parents? Well, maybe they reminded Harold of his kids. I don't know.

It's funny. The most definitive event that took place during my formative years was moving. It seems like a different life. Much like Harold's backyard, there exist two sections. The first is happy, ordinary, wonderful but level. When I entered the second phase, after the move, it seemed as if I opened some imaginary gate and found myself in a whole new world. And as the days continue to play out ahead of me and I wonder what might have happened to Harold in the intervening years, I continue to find new blooms in an ever-increasing maze of roses.

Posted by Chris at February 1, 2007 7:20 AM

You must find out about Harold! My father in law was a Harold, from what I've heard. Especially with the fixing and the roses and the being an awesome example.

Posted by: Contrary at February 1, 2007 7:49 AM

I agree, you should look into what happened to Harold.

When we first moved into our house a few years back I had my very own Harold (although he steadfastly insisted his name was Bob). He was really good about showing me stuff helping with things I had no business trying to attempt on my own. Sadly, they sold their house a few months before our daughter was born and moved up north to run a hotel.

Posted by: Jeff at February 1, 2007 8:03 AM

It's going to be sad when that generation of old folks are all gone. Are our parents going to become old folks with character? I remember my grandfather was like that. He had a GIANT garden (no roses though), every day he dressed in well-kempt jeans, a white undershirt and a nice button up shirt. He fed birds on his porch, and had bluejay who would eat from his hand. They also were the first owners of their house. Somehow I just don't see my own husband doing those sorts of things when he's old. Nor his dad, or my dad.

I have a gateway like that too. Before Wyoming and after Wyoming. Two completely seperate lives (with utter bliss in that limbo that was Wyoming) and two different people.

Posted by: Phoenix at February 1, 2007 8:11 AM

that was a nice post. i remember how simple life was when I was a kid and all the neighbors we had when we had the house. most of them are gone now. definetly an interesting analogy. i like it. my yard was kind of like that. the front closest to the house was where we could play and have a swingset and pool and stuff and the back had all my dads veggies and stuff growing. a complex area we werent really supposed to be in. i like this post a lot. you must find out what Harold is doing these days. :)

Posted by: mad mom at February 1, 2007 8:55 AM

Great neighbors are priceless, aren't they? It sounds like Harold really made a positive mark on your life. That was a wonderful post, and makes me what to know what happened to Harold too.

Posted by: Jessie at February 1, 2007 9:05 AM

My dad was a Harold in some ways. What a lovely post.

Posted by: ann adams at February 1, 2007 9:11 AM

We moved just before our daughter turned 3. She asked us about the old house again last night. We knew it would be a significant event, but didn't know she'd really hang on to the memories like this. I'm glad though, because they are all great memories. Included among them was the nice older couple living across the street. Retired police officers with generous wives and cute little dogs are hard to find as neighbors. It was a shame we couldn't bring them along to the new neighborhood.

Posted by: Brad at February 1, 2007 10:18 AM

I insist you find out about Harold. Your parents must know his last name. If they do...send it to me. I can use all these databases I've got to track him down...assuming he's still with us.

Posted by: wordgirl at February 1, 2007 10:25 AM

I really identify with you about the moving. There are many, many sections of my childhood, but also two very distinct parts. My Dad was like your Harold.

Posted by: reddirtroad at February 1, 2007 10:41 AM

Harold sounds like a wonderful man. I'm sure that he would be really touched if he knew what a profound effect he had on you.

Posted by: Hope at February 1, 2007 10:50 AM

Harold sounds like a wonderful man. I'm sure that he would be really touched if he knew what a profound effect he had on you.

Posted by: Hope at February 1, 2007 10:50 AM

That's so beautiful and introspective, Cactus. Nice post! :)

Posted by: Zandria at February 1, 2007 11:19 AM

aw. harold was your dad's Wilson :)

Posted by: ali at February 1, 2007 11:31 AM

We had Mr. Hoff. My sister who was 4 at the time would knock on his door and asked, If Mr. Hoff could come out and play." and he would too.

When M.Hoff's wife died a piece of him died inside too. We moved away a year after she passed and lost contact with him alltogether. I heard from old friends who still lived on my old street he stayed holed up and died a year after we moved away.

You MUST find out what happened to Harold, he might be tickled pink to have you contact him. People like to know that someone remembers them.

Posted by: Michele at February 1, 2007 11:45 AM

Beautiful! May your rose today be fragrant and thornless!

Posted by: bhd at February 1, 2007 12:00 PM

We want more Harold! You seriously should find out what happened to him and let us know!! Chris, that was a great post. I want a Harold or a female equivalent of a Harold. I was in the store buying a can of chicken stock and the label said, "Voted #1 Tastes Like Homemade!" and I realized I wouldn't have even been qualified to vote. I've never made homemade chicken stock or even tasted it for that matter. Who does that these days? We don't have Home Ec, we don't have helpful neighbors around, we don't often have aunts and grandmothers close by. We have the internet - which is GREAT don't get me wrong - but I can't imagine dribbling a spoonful of chicken stock onto my keyboard and asking, "Did I get it right? Is this what it's supposed to taste like?"
Recap - More Harold. Less canned soup. :)
PS - Thanks for putting me on your blogroll!

Posted by: Lilymane at February 1, 2007 1:13 PM

dude, that was awfully poetic and stuff like that - are you feeling alright?

(alright, you're allowed to be introspective sometimes. thus say I.)

Posted by: s@bd at February 1, 2007 1:25 PM

What a wonderful story. It's so nice to have a Harold in your life.

I wonder what happened to him.

Posted by: cassie-b at February 1, 2007 4:24 PM

Great post, Chris. I'd be happy to check out your old neighborhood to see if Harold is still tending to his roses.

PS - thanks for blogrolling me!

Posted by: KathyK at February 1, 2007 8:42 PM

Again, wonderfully written Chris. I can see Harold now.

Posted by: Heather at February 1, 2007 10:20 PM

Send me your old address and if I'm in the neighborhood I'll take a picture of Harold's house. What's Harold's last name?

Posted by: Johnny Smoke at February 2, 2007 12:06 PM

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Posted by: Marylou29Page at May 26, 2010 5:51 PM