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The best neighbor ever

We first moved to Barnesville in the Spring of 1979. We bought a wonderful, old, big, drafty house on Thomaston Street that had belonged to the McKoy family. We knew very few people in Barnesville but, boy, did we ever hit the lottery on neighbors. On one side we had Mike and Pam Browning. Mike, a landscape architect, had the first weedeater I ever saw. Behind the Brownings on Georgia Avenue lived John Hewitt. He worked at First National and knew everybody, their business and was more than glad to share background information on folks we met. He opened his pool to us and we took advantage of it. On the other side of our house were Floyd and Mable Brown. Floyd constantly apologized that his centipede grass had overtaken our lawn that had some other sort of grass. The line of demarcation was our cement sidewalk that was cracked from the protrusion of roots from a huge oak tree. Mable brought us homemade pickles. Directly behind us lived the Websters, William J and Estelle. That is not a typo. J was his middle name. I never knew that until I proofread his obituary last month. They were Mr. Webster and Miss Webster to me and they were the best neighbors ever. Mrs. Webster created in her kitchen shrimp and corn chowder that was to die for and always brought us a helping. Mr. Webster always wore a red Marine Corps hat but I didn’t need that to know he had been in the military. He kept his lawn neatly mowed. He cut firewood for his fireplace and it was stacked in the backyard with military precision. But the big tipoff was his attention to edging. He had an edger with a sharp, rotating cutter on it and he edged his sidewalk, driveway and the city sidewalk with that same precision. He did not stop at his property line either. He edged our driveway and all the sidewalks for about 100 yards in all directions from his house. He scoffed at Mike’s new fangled weedeater. It could not hold a candle to his beloved edger. Those sidewalks were always in ship shape. It seemed he cut them every other day. Eventually, I learned Mr. Webster had been a pilot. He had served in World War II, Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam as a jet jockey. Photos from back in the day showed a handsome, swashbuckling young man in a leather flight jacket. He had seen and participated in more carnage than I could grasp but was the kindest, most gentlemanly man I had ever met. I also learned the neighborhood kids had intermarried. Wanda Webster married Glenn Hewitt, son of John. John Webster married Maureen Brown, daughter of Floyd and Mable. Their son, Chris, grew up in our backyard. He later married Tasha Stanton, who has labored nearly 20 years as our office manger at the newspaper having started at 17. When we first moved in, we had a Gordon Setter named Clyde. He was easy going and gone a lot before we had him neutered. He slept on the front porch and loved everyone but the substitute mailman whom he hated. One sad morning, Clyde got run over and killed while running with Laura. After a mourning period, I went to Reynolds and came back with a beautiful Golden Retriever puppy we named Sudsy. That puppy grew quickly into a large, friendly, gregarious dog. We built a little pen around the concrete slab atop which sat our metal outbuilding. This became Sudsy’s home when we were away at work which was most of the time. It never dawned on us but we had put the pen right beneath the Webster’s bedroom window­not the most considerate move. I very rarely picked up Sudsy’s bowl. I would just dump a scoop of food in it each morning. One day, I was cleaning the pen and picked up the bowl. It seemed to weigh about 10 pounds – much heavier than I remembered. It seems that Sudsy spent his bored nights pushing the bowl around on the concrete slab with his nose, making a racket right beneath that bedroom window. Mr. Webster solved the problem by filling the hollow bottom of the bowl with concrete mix and letting it harden. I don’t know how long it was like that before I discovered it. I never mentioned it and neither did Mr. Webster. Some years later, we moved. From then on, I called Mr. Webster ‘˜Neighbor’ and he addressed me likewise. It was a fitting moniker. He was the best neighbor ever. God rest his sweet soul! Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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