The man in the green house

Before moving to the South, I lived in a nice upscale Boston suburb. I was pregnant when we bought the ‘barn red’ Cape Cod style house and moved out after my son started college. My street featured lots of curves, stone fences, big wooded lots and old houses — a quintessential New England small town.

Right after moving in, someone — I think it was his next door neighbor, the woman who tied her dog to a tree in the front yard and used way too much salt on her food — told me to watch out for the man in the green house. He was kind of creepy, she said. Might have snapped a bit after his wife died.

Over the years, I spent a lot of time going down the street — pushing a stroller, walking the dog, riding a bike, driving to work. And each time, I’d pass the green house.

Sometimes I thought about the creepy old man as I walked or biked or drove down the street. Mostly, though, I was so busy racing from one thing to the next that I didn’t have much of anything on my mind but my ‘to do’ list.

There was a rock ledge in front of the green house, and every year the man would plant red geraniums in the little crevices so an unexpected blast of color erupted from the rocks all summer long.

I was driving home one day and passed the green house. The man was lying in the front yard, his legs leaning at an awkward angle against his front steps. It took a few seconds for the scene to register in my brain and I’d already driven several hundred yards by the time it did.

I pulled into a driveway to turn around and a minute later I was getting out of the car in front of the green house.

“Are you all right?”

The man looked at me, then sat up and smiled. “Oh! You startled me. I’m fine – sometimes my back acts up. If I stretch it out like this as soon as it starts I can usually nip it in the bud before it gets too bad.”

He scrambled to stand up and held his hand out to shake mine. “But thank you so much for stopping to ask. I appreciate your kindness.”

I told him how much I looked forward to seeing the geraniums in the ledge and what a beautiful garden he had.

He thanked me again and told me to stop by any time I wanted. He became Don, not the creepy old man in the green house.

Every day from then on when I passed the green house and Don was outside, I waved. He’d wave back. Sometimes I stopped just for a minute to admire his flowers, say hello.


Fifteen years.

I wasted fifteen years not getting to know Don, shutting him out until he had a back ache on his front yard.

How many times, I wonder, had I done just that — get some misguided notion of a person, an idea, a place — and shut the door before realizing what could lie on the other side?

My loss.

12 comments to The man in the green house

  • Thanks for something to think about today … how often I have a false impression of someone and don’t bother to look further. It’s a lesson for life and for writing.

    • Natasha

      I think about Don every so often and wonder how often something similar has happened, how much I’ve missed. Yesterday when I woke up this demanded to get written down. Sometimes I’m just the typist here.

  • Thanks for sharing this. I gave me a lot to think about too. I wonder what happened between him and the other neighbor to give her the impression he was creepy?

    • Natasha

      I don’t know what happened between the two of them. I’ve wondered about that some, too.

      Who knows where either of them are now. The rock ledge, however, is still there, or was whenever Google maps did its aerial shoot of my old home town. I couldn’t see any geraniums though.

  • What a perfect post for the holiday season! It makes me think of the movie “Home Alone” and the fellow next door who all the kids were afraid of.

    As human beings, we’re inclined to draw conclusions inappropriately. Thanks for the reminder to “give the guy a chance.”

  • I agree with all of the above comments – a perfect reflection for this holiday season. The muse is in a teaching mode.

  • In my younger days I would have slipped and twisted my ankel in his driveway on purpose just for a glance inside the greenhouse! These days I don’t think I’d be as brave. In the end I think we are all shaped in one way or another by the experiences of our past. This story is a nice example of how we all have the ability to uncover certain truths or learn more about ourselves when we take the time to look back on the past and use our current knowledge to discover who we once were and who we have become.

    I know that was a wee bit wordy, but I’m pressed for time and not self-editing.

  • Natasha

    Part of it for me is having/finding/making the time to have a more questioning mind rather than careening from over-commitment to over-commitment.

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