The day I thought my elderly neighbor died in his backyard it was excruciatingly hot. We had been receiving excessive heat warnings throughout the week. I can see my neighbor’s backyard from our enclosed back porch and that day I had let our dog outside a few times.
Each time I opened the door I saw Mr. Maroni trimming his bushes, mowing his lawn, and then pruning a tree on the far side of the yard. I worried about him. After all, he was in his 80s and out in the heat, working hard. He had taken his shirt off at one point, which wasn’t necessarily fun to look at, considering his age, but at least he was staying cool.’
We had a small dog back then who thought he needed to go into the yard repeatedly to bark at Mr. Maroni or a passing dog or birds, or, well, anything at all. Late in the afternoon I opened the door to let the dog out and looked up to see Mr. Maroni sitting on the bench under his tree with his arms stretched across the back of the bench, his head tipped forward and his eyes closed.
The bench and tree was across the yard so I couldn’t see if his eyes were open or closed but I knew his head was tipped back and he wasn’t moving. I decided he must have been simply resting and went back into the relief of the air conditioning. When I went back to let the dog in, Mr. Maroni was still there.
No big deal. It had only been a few moments.
But when Mr. Maroni was still there, unmoved, a half an hour later, I began to think the worst.
“Oh my gosh. He’s died. He sat down and had a heart attack from all the heat,” I thought. Yes, I thought the man had had a heart attack and looked that peaceful.
I called my husband at work.
“I think Mr. Maroni died.”
“He’s in the backyard and he isn’t moving.”
“He’s laying in the backyard and isn’t moving?”
“Well, no, he’s sitting on the bench, but he isn’t moving.”
“Call 911,” my husband said.
“I’m not calling 911. What if he really isn’t dead?”
My husband sighed one of his long heavy sighs he sighs when I’m being crazy (which is often).
“Well, go see if he’s dead.”
“How do I check?”
“Yell over to him and see if he responds.”
Oh. Right. Why hadn’t I thought of this?
I kept my husband on the phone, walked to our back fence and yelled over to Mr. Maroni.
“Jack? Jack? Are you okay?”
No response. No movement.
Oh my gosh. He’s dead.
“Go into his yard and poke him,” my husband said.
“Go over and poke him.”
“Poke him with what?!”
“I don’t know! With a stick. Go poke him with a stick.”
This is ridiculous, I thought.
“I’ve got to go back to work. Call me back if he doesn’t move.”
My husband hung up and I walked around the outside of our fence toward the neighbor’s gate.
Poke him? Seriously? What if I poke him and he isn’t dead but he has a heart attack from me poking him and waking him up? Then I will have killed our neighbor! What if I poke him and he is dead and he falls off the bench. Oh my gosh.
By the time I had walked all the way around our house and along our fence, Mr. Maroni was standing at the end of his yard close to our fence gathering his yard tools. I almost screamed in shock.
I also almost yelled, “You’re alive!”
But instead, I said, “Oh, hi! I was just checking on you. I saw you sitting on your bench and just wanted to be sure you didn’t have heatstroke.”
In my head, I thought, “I wanted to be sure you hadn’t died.”
Mr. Maroni just laughed, then sheepishly admitted, “Well, I did fall asleep over there, but no heat stroke, thankfully.”
Back in the house, I called my husband.
“Yeah, I thought he was.”
Jack and his wife no longer live in the house behind us but that memory is one of many I have of them; a memory that makes me laugh every time I think of it.