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"Why It Took So Long To Get To Know My Neighbor... And Why It Was Worth It."

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 8, 2022 3:01 am

"Why It Took So Long To Get To Know My Neighbor... And Why It Was Worth It."

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 8, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Heidi Viars shares about how her life changed when she began showing some neighborly kindness to a grumpy old cop.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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Visit This is Lee Habeeb, and this is our American stories. And we tell stories about everything here on this show. But our favorite stories, well, they're yours. They're our listeners' story, and they're just ordinary folks telling stories about their lives. This story is one just like that.

And it's a story about neighborly kindness. Heidi lives with her six kids in Green Lake, Wisconsin. A man named Tom moved into their neighborhood when he retired as a police officer from Chicago. Heidi and Tom were neighbors for almost 15 years before they got to know each other.

Tom was in his eighties and extremely introverted. Heidi, well, she was a busy mom who didn't think she had time to invest in a grumpy old man. Something changed in Heidi's heart, though, and she began reaching out to this older gentleman who was quickly declining in health. Here's Heidi sharing her story about the relationship between herself and her elderly neighbor, Tom.

It just takes time. Tom wasn't dying. Well, that is, he wasn't dying as quickly as everyone expected. The nurses and the doctors, the kids, and even the chief of police didn't think he'd be here this long. He was 83 and so stubborn and certainly hated people doting over him. He told me so many times. He wanted to die at home and not here in this hospital.

But I don't think we get to choose how we traveled that last part of the journey. He said he wanted to die in his sleep, in his house, but not here. Every time I visited him, he asked me if he could go home. One time he stopped talking altogether.

I pulled up a chair next to his bed and reached across the sheet for a slim pant. And while so many people had tried to get close, he pushed everyone away. But somehow he managed to pull me in.

In the past month, we've just been playing this game and this tug of war. And I tried to convince him to get help, but he wanted to have his independence. He had the strong will which kept him alive for all these years.

And somehow that strong will betrayed him and even become his enemy. But see, I'm German and I have about just this heart of a head as he did. And he hated to be told what to do and had an aversion to anyone who even tried. And I was sitting there next to his bed and I was hating the fact that he was dying so slowly and mostly alone. And it was for the first time in 20 years that I known him that I held his hand. And I looked down and saw that time and the decades that span between us and the wrinkles and lines and the gnarls of his fingers. He had spent so much effort trying to keep me away. But we'd grown close. Even all of his efforts and we became friends, actually really good friends. As I sat there, I wondered how we got there.

I think it all started nine years ago when his wife, Mary, died one year short of their 50th anniversary. We had been neighbors up to that point for many years, but we didn't know each other. And I think we both liked it that way. We minded our own business. He stayed in his yard.

I stayed in mine. He planted roses and red geraniums and I was in my flowers and my own vegetable garden. And then when we saw each other in the summer, we gave a friendly wave.

And every so often when the dogs wandered across to each other's properties, then we took a few minutes and we always made sure we excused the dog's behavior and we were careful not to talk about meaningless chitchat. Living next to him was really not complicated. He was tall and slender and he slicked his gray hair back and always wore, felt like the same plaid shirt, cotton shirt, tucked into his belted jeans. But he was able to demand respect.

He didn't even have to say anything. Sometimes when I was in his presence, I just felt small. And it wasn't just because he was over six feet tall. Before he retired, that was over 20 years ago, he worked for the Chicago police force in Cook County. It felt like he was wearing an invisible badge everywhere he went.

I often wondered about all the things that you must have seen during that time. And then when he finally turned in his uniform after I think almost 40 years, I imagined he was looking for a quiet place to retire. I wondered if he wanted to see the stars instead of that orange glow of the city. So he and Mary moved three hours north and far away from all that hustle and bustle.

And he built their dream house right there in our neighborhood at the end of the cul-de-sac and somehow in the middle of my view. And then when she died, it seemed like he didn't want to live anymore either. He kind of closed the front door hard and didn't want anybody to come in anymore, even the kids. It seemed like he didn't need anyone. I don't think he wanted to share any of his private affairs or even his grief.

He was so strong, at least he appeared that way. And then a few years ago, I noticed in the spring, I looked over and I didn't even see his lawn chairs out. He normally put those out in the spring for the summer, but not that year. And then in the fall, that year, there was that routine he had of going to the gas station and he just stopped that altogether.

He would usually leave at 9 a.m. and get the paper and a cup of coffee. But for some reason, he just stopped going out and the garage door seemed to open less and less and he stayed inside more and more. I think that's why his dogs became his most trusted companions. They became his best friends.

One winter morning and it had snowed all night and it was super cold. I called him and I offered to shovel a path for the dogs in the back. And then to my surprise, he agreed to that. That year on Christmas Eve, I just went over and knocked on his back door and handed him a gift. I bought him a book about Jesus and made some cookies. And he handed me a green box of frango mint chocolates from Macy's. That was something I would get every year for Christmas.

And when we come back, we will continue with this beautiful story of neighborly kindness here on Our American Stories. When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Next-gen earbuds uniquely tune to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you.

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Back to Heidi. I found out he had a sweet tooth. He didn't mind banana bread and zucchini bread and cookies and all of those things. And then over the next month and with each visit to drop off banana bread I just noticed he was getting thinner.

His tall frame was waning. I felt myself worrying more and more about his health and so I baked more and more and called more often. I became really grateful for those dogs and almost subconsciously I looked over when I saw him outside in the yard and in the winter his porch light came on at exactly 8 30 to get him outside one more time before he went to bed.

I really didn't want to but I found myself watching for that light. It was like it was a beacon, a beam that shone across that half acre. It felt like it was a signal that things were okay. And over the span of that winter I felt myself wearing a path down in the snow between our houses. It felt like it was the beginning of a tightrope walk.

A balancing thing, act of me trying to care for him and he trying to keep his independence. I really can't recall an exact moment when things turned for the worse. It was more like something really gradual, moved towards something scary and inevitable. But part of me didn't mind caring.

He had such a hard shell and it was almost like a challenge to crack that. I smiled one day when the phone rang and I saw his number pop up. And he went, hello, this is Tom.

I'm wondering if you can pick me up next time you go to the store. His question had an exclamation mark. I agreed, of course. I liked him and I really meant it. Then he asked me when I would go the next time and I just said, how about 9 in the morning? And he just said, how about 9 30?

Of course, he had to have the last word. I picked him up at 9 30 sharp the next day and then we went to the store for some groceries. There's dog food, a six pack of pistachio muffins, a six pack of bottle coke, chameleon breakfast sandwiches, and a bag of individually packed, toasted chocolate. That was on his list. And then you made sure I knew exactly where those items were because you never know if I had to go maybe next time by myself. And I did.

I did go by myself. The following week and the week after that and the weeks and months after that too. And his list got longer, slowly, but they always had the same things from the first shopping trip. And then the phone rang more often on my end. If I could stop over and help him move a table or if I can give him a ride to the bank, how about the eye doctor? Then his eyes were getting worse.

And how about taking five surgery? And with that, the car rates became longer and we had more intentional conversations. We talked about the kids and cubs and the brewers and talked about the news in town and in the world. And he allowed me little glimpses into his life. He tried hard to make sure he remained the interrogator. He made sure that he was the one who asked the questions and I was the one who answered.

But there were times he slipped when he let his guard down. When his mind trailed off and then he told me about his wife and how she brought all the dogs from the shelter and how he just loved them because of that. Then it was that time he told me about his daughter, Liz. And she was my age and the only girl among all those boys. Now she took on the role of checking in on him all the time. For some reason, she was able to get close to him, press in and not to let him turn her away.

But then she died of cancer shortly after Mary left. I could see that he missed him terribly. And then I felt my compassion growing for him. Well, maybe it was because in my own heart, I really wanted a chance as a daughter and mending a relationship with my own dad. And then it felt like our time was more and more like a gift, like a second chance, maybe even for both of us. And then the spring turned into summer and fall in the winter. And then that one night, well, I had feared and I think he too. Well, that thing came true. It was past 8.30 and that porch light knocked on my kitchen window.

I scurried around and wiped the counters and looked over and it snowed all day and it was so cold. I kept pacing and looking over to his house. I reasoned. Ah, he just forgot to turn the light off.

I'm sure. I waited a few more minutes and did a couple more things and looked back over and was still on. And then I just picked up the phone and dialed this number.

There was no answer. My stomach turned into knots and I sensed that there was something seriously wrong. I put my boots on and stumbled over there as fast as I could and knocked on his back door and saw something that really scared me. He'd given me a key actually and so I made it into the house and I found him on the floor unable to move.

There was a man that I didn't know for all those years. He was on the ground and he had no confidence left. He was so scared. His eyes flickered and his mind was confused. I tried to look around and make sense to see what happened and found his phone was busted on the kitchen floor and blood poured from his elbow. His arms and legs were shaking. He must have crawled to the living room to steady himself against the couch. I looked over and he gave me that stern look and commanded, just help me up.

I was so frustrated. I looked at him and I said, Tom, you're hurt. You need to get to the hospital. I'll call you an ambulance. Oh, he looked at me and tried again to get me to help him up. He says, no, I won't go. And I just looked at him sternly and said, no, sir. And I picked up my phone and dialed 911.

When they came, he did refuse to go along. And that was the first time I was angry at him and I was angry at having let myself get close. And it was the first of many times I was angry. And then eventually the day came and he fell for the very last time.

At that point, he was unable to refuse to help and to say no. And that was the time the house turned dark and the porch line turned off. I was sitting there in the hospital and the second seemed to crawl across the face of the clock and they felt so slow. They were so much slower than the seconds at home.

At home, the hours were filled with chores and flew by in no time. Here, the seconds were limited and finite and drawn out and begging to be filled with one more opportunity for saying something. I wanted him to hear something. And it was so hard to say what I wanted to say. And I didn't know if he could hear me, but I whispered, I wish it were my dad, Tom.

There's nothing I can do for you as a neighbor. And then I felt him squeeze my hand. I miss him every time I look over to his house or past the pistachio muffins in the store. He really has helped me understand something, that the distance between two people is really not measured by the distance, the proximity or age. It feels like a half an acre can be so far, like the distance between two worlds or it can be so short and such a short path between two good friends. I think the distance between two people is as great as their unwillingness to share their pain. But love is patient, even with the most difficult people. And most of all, that kind of love that is willing to share in pain and suffering and turns the neighbors into friends. And even sometimes strangers and the daughters, it's really not unlike dying.

It just takes time. And a special thanks to Heidi Vars and what a spectacular story. And so much wisdom and so much heart.

The story of Heidi and Tom, the story of two neighbors and in the end of two friends here of two friends here on Our American Stories. How does a 65 inch Vizio 4K Smart TV with award-winning Quantum Color sound? Pretty good, right? Now you can get one for just $429. That's $110 discount at Sam's Club. The Vizio M series Smart TV displays over a billion colors and Dolby Vision HDR to create a true-to-life picture.

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Scan the QR code on specially marked bags of Lay's, Cheetos or Doritos or visit When the world gets in the way of your music, try the new Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. Next-gen earbuds uniquely tuned to the shape of your ears. They use exclusive Bose technology that personalizes the audio performance to fit you, delivering the world's best noise cancellation and powerfully immersive sound so you can hear and feel every detail of the music you love. Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2, sound shape to you. To learn more, visit
Whisper: small.en / 2022-11-08 07:27:36 / 2022-11-08 07:32:25 / 5

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