News-Star: Opinion

The kindness of neighbors

This story begins two summers ago, when lightning struck the oak tree in our side yard.

In the days that followed that lightning strike, everyone I talked to said the tree was lost, and so it was. The leaves stayed on and fell like normal that fall, but none emerged last spring. Accepting the tree’s fate, my wife called three tree services so we could have the dead oak removed. But none called her back; maybe one tree wasn’t worth their time and effort.

The dead tree still standing wasn’t a big deal until last winter, when a storm with high winds tore out the tree’s top and sent it crashing into our yard, leaving quite a mess.

By way of confession, I pretty much do yard work only when necessary to keep the homeowners’ association from intervening, so a couple of Saturdays ago, I started tackling the tree debris so I could mow a yard that was getting too tall for comfort.

I made a little progress that first Saturday but not nearly enough. The next Saturday, my wife was able to join the effort, so I was encouraged. But truth be told, no matter how ready, how willing, how committed we were to the cause, two people could only do so much with a couple of handsaws and a pair of lopping shears.

Relief came in the form of the neighbor to the right of us. He offered to join the effort armed with a chainsaw. And so a job that promised to last all day, if not considerably longer, wrapped up in a couple of hours. The cleanup became a two-family effort, by the way, as our neighbor’s wife and young son joined in.

The next day, I was able to mow the yard, no doubt breathing a sigh of relief into a neighborhood that had most likely grown tired of both the tree wreck and the growing lawn.

After mowing the yard, I had an inexplicable desire to do even more yard work; specifically, I thought I could start filling in backyard ruts caused by an anonymous jerk and a handful of holes caused by decaying roots from long-ago trees.

This wasn’t the first time I had had this idea, but until last weekend, I was lacking in raw filler material. And then the neighbor to the left of us began removing a thin layer of grass from his yard to make way for a hedge he plans to plant.

He was filling wheelbarrows from his yard and hauling them uphill to the curb, so I offered to haul the loads to my yard instead. I expected nothing more than free topsoil and grass, but soon, the neighbor was doing the wheeling; he even enlisted the help of his wife.

Suffice it to say that for the second day in a row, a Bolejack family yard effort was made considerably easier and shorter by the kindness of neighbors.

I write all of this to say this: It is not in my nature or my wife’s nature to be a bother or a burden. The last thing we want is to be an inconvenience; we’re the kind of people who apologize to the doctor for getting sick.

So that first weekend in the yard, when the neighbor first offered his chainsaw services, I said no not because I didn’t want them or couldn’t use them; the opposite was true. I said no because I did not want to be a bother to him.

But after the past couple of weekends, I have come to understand that my neighbors aren’t neighborly simply because they live next door. They’re neighborly because they’re good people, really good people, who offer to help others because that’s in their nature.

We don’t choose our neighbors of course; that’s left to chance. So let me just say how lucky the Bolejacks are to be surrounded by good neighbors.

Wants vs. expectations

I think consumers want value in the services they purchase. But when it comes to government services, do they really expect to receive that value? I’m starting to wonder.

For all the years I’ve lived in Four Oaks – 14-plus now – the town has always collected my trash twice a week from a container I provided. But a few weeks back, we arrived home to find a new, quite large garbage container by the curb. The attached note said, essentially, that Four Oaks had turned trash collection over to a private hauler that would collect our garbage once a week, not twice, in the provided container.

Since then, I have heard more than one Holt Lake South homeowner say the town ought to cut our garbage bills in half since it has cut service in half. That’s the value they want in Town of Four Oaks services. But in the very next sentence, these same homeowners have said the town won’t cut our bills in half. That’s their expectation of how government will treat them.

I’ve been around long enough to know that the cost of a government service never falls, no matter the circumstance. I do, however, take some comfort in knowing that, going forward, Four Oaks taxpayers won’t be employing sanitation workers entitled to guaranteed pensions and lifetime health insurance. For my money, literally, benefits in the public sector should be no greater than those in the private economy.

Still, when citizens want one thing from their government but cynically expect something less, then government has a problem that it’s elected leaders should address.