Tom Clyde: Happy Thanksgiving
The "I’ve fallen and I can’t get up" ads have been a staple of TV for as long as I can remember. Every now and then, they update it to include a new person who has fallen. The current character is a mezzo soprano who manages to belt out her operatic plea for help while upside down at the bottom of the stairs, in a blizzard of laundry. She may not be able to stand up, but she can shatter glass a block away.
The ads seem kind of funny until it happens. I got a call this week from an elderly neighbor saying that her husband had done the classic slip and fall taking the trash out to the garage. Could I come over and help him up? I went right over. In my neighborhood, being right next door isn’t quite the same as being right next door. As I put my shoes on, I debated whether it was quicker to walk over or drive, and concluded walking was faster, but only because the tractor was blocking the driveway.
Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, just kind of stuck floundering in the snow, and unable to find enough traction to get his feet underneath him. He said he had been there for a while, maybe over a half hour, and had not been able to shout loud enough for his wife to hear him in the house. He was in a light jacket — hardly worth dressing for the arctic when you are going 30 feet to the garage — and was down in that heavy, wet snow that turned to ice the second you touched it. He was soaked, shivering, and a little frightened.
He is also a very big man. Grabbing him under the arms and lifting was not an option. So he figured out how I should set up a ladder from his garage, and between him pulling on the ladder and me lifting, we got him upright and back in the house. There isn’t anybody else anywhere nearby. Out where I live, the fire department is 20 minutes away if everything goes smoothly.
As I walked home, I went down the list of all the bad outcomes, or slightly different conditions that could have turned an awkward situation into a disaster; a little colder weather, a harder fall with a physical injury. It also hit me that nobody is immune from a slip on the ice. I drove back over with the tractor and cleared the snow out of his yard. We had a lot last week, and he hadn’t cleared it. I guess I’ll add one more driveway to my list.
They have lived there full time for a long time now, and had owned another house in the area that they used as a vacation home. So I’ve known them all my life, on that wave-to-your-neighbor basis. Like neighbors are supposed to do, we look after each other, and pick up the UPS packages when the other is away. I watch for smoke from their chimney every morning. But that’s kind of the extent of the relationship.
It reminded me of all the things that my mother’s neighbors did for her in her last few years in the house in Salt Lake. She had become the frail little widow, and fought moving out of the house she had lived in for 50 years. The neighbors on either side put her trash can out (it outweighed her, empty), jump-started the car long after she should have quit driving, changed light globes, and did a million other things for her. Their kindness made it possible for her to live in her house, "independently," for years longer than was reasonable.
There’s no way to make that up to them, and they have all passed on now, too. So I guess it evens out with some other neighbor taking care of some other person who needs a hand. I hope there is somebody 25 years younger than me who moves in and will pull my cranky old butt out of the drift when I get to that point. You never know where that connection will fit. My uncle, who lived just up the street, objected vociferously if I ever did anything for him. I tried, but he’d have no part of it. Instead, he leaned on the couple across the street. They willingly did what needed to be done, without ratting him out to his kids.
At Thanksgiving, it’s good to be reminded of the simple connections that make the world work. Summit County has a formal organization for every cause imaginable. But it also has those neighborhood connections that are the real basis of civilization. People looking out for each other. That’s really what it’s all about. Happy Thanksgiving.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.