Last Saturday I was raking leaves in the front yard. It was a beautiful, Atlanta day with the temperature in the high 60’s, blue skies. I knew I would be spending the late afternoon watching football, so I wanted to spend a couple hours at least “looking” productive. I was in our front yard building piles of leaves to take ‘round to the back. My thoughts were rambling between this beautiful day and about how much I loved our house.
My peaceful moment was interrupted when, a couple blocks away I heard it. A sports car was revving the engines and was racing down our block. I started screaming. It was that primal, protective, Mama Bear scream, “Hey, SLOW DOWN!!!” The driver was young guy with windows down, music blasting. He didn’t even look my way when he raced by me. It turns out I knew he was in for a big surprise because there’s a stop sign at the end of our block. I stood in the street as he screeched to a stop. Then he roared his engine, squealed his tires and blew on toward the next block.
There I stood in the street holding my rake. And I started wondering what I would do or say if he came barreling back. Immediately words came to mind, “Carter lives across the street. He’s 4. Nathan and Max live next door to Carter, they are 5 and 8. Lola and her brothers live next door. They are all pretty amazing kids. They ride their bikes in the street on Saturdays. I want to watch all of them grow up, so SLOW DOWN!”
But the guy didn’t come back. Instead, another guy who was walking did stop. He was laughing (probably at me) and he asked me, “What would you have done if he’d come back?” And I said to this walker, “I just realized I was channeling my Dad.” The guy smiled and said, “Well, that’s a good thing. Your Dad must have been a good guy.” And walked off.
And he was. My Dad was a good guy. Dad used to do that same kind of primal yelling back on Prairie Avenue in Mattoon. He would be outside and some “jerk” (one of the words Dad would yell in the driver’s wake) would come barreling down our street. Dad would pull out his hankie (editor’s note: we never really understood how this `flag’ would be an effective tool) and would yell for the driver to “STOP!” Never saw one actually do that after Dad’s command, but it made a strong impression on me.
My Dad was a good guy and being a neighbor mattered to him. Our parents lived out their shared-belief that my sisters and I were not raised on an uninhabited island. No, we lived smack-dab in the middle of a community. We had neighbors all around us, and these folks mattered to our lives. Dad invested his time and energy in faithfully caring for the folks in his village.
My Dad was a good guy. He’s been gone since 2010 and I still imagine the two of us talking on our long walks together, or shooting baskets in the driveway. He lived his principles. He laughed a lot. He played incredible jazz piano every night as his daughters drifted off to sleep. My Dad never seemed to meet a stranger.
Perhaps this is the highest compliment we can pay: channeling a loved one we’ve lost and hold close in our hearts every day. My hunch is many of us do it, and maybe sometimes we’re not even aware of it. These folks bring out the best in us, as we follow after them. Their legacy is one of our richest treasures. There was a shift in my spirit when I talked briefly with that neighbor who stopped to speak to me last Saturday. There was a shift when I realized that I was channeling my Dad. His response was truer than he might have known, “He must have been a good guy.” And truly that was all I needed. I took a deep breath, picked up the rake and got back to the work at hand.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.