Posted by: trevormeers | November 26, 2009

Roger’s Drive

Mr. Smith left for Kentucky a couple of days ago. He backed out of his drive across from us in the cautious way of old people, and headed south alone, except for a package he trusted no one else to deliver.

Roger Smith was one of the pioneers of our little neighborhood of acreages. He moved to his property about 15 years ago, completing the dream that pulled him through countless shifts at some factory in Des Moines.

(It once struck me that Teri and I had, in a large degree, realized Roger’s lifelong goal in our early 30s by moving out here.) He put his own hands and back to work personally clearing the brush and undesirable trees from his three acres, replanting it with a variety of conifers, maples and other ornamentals that deliver a splendid show all year. After the house was built and the place established, he settled down to a long strong of days spent puttering around on his John Deere mower and strumming a guitar on the swing hung from a large bough of the front yard maple. Occasionally, he wanders over to my yard to repeat this whole story to me and point out that the ash trees still dominating my land aren’t worth the space they take up and that my yard looked better under the previous owner’s stewardship. To keep the conversation moving, I asked him once whether he missed the challenge of clearing the property, and he said, “I’m not 63 anymore, you know.”

Roger enjoys our girls, letting them pet his little Yorkie, Checkers, whenever he takes the dog out to skitter along our blacktop road. One December, he told me he hurried to get his Christmas train light display up in the front yard because he figured our kids liked looking at it through their bedroom windows. His wife, Jan, generally stayed inside the house, but she liked the girls, too. Once Allison sold her some kind of cookie dough in a school fundraiser, and Jan told her, “We asked a lot of people to buy things like this over the years, too. You come back anytime.”

Back in October, Jan pecked a kiss on Roger’s cheek and headed to Ankeny for a haircut. At an intersection on Highway 65 (within that statistically famous “five miles from home”), she mistimed a crossing in front of a truck. There were still rubber streaks on the pavement when I passed by on the way home from work, but I didn’t know what happened until a neighbor caught me in the driveway the next morning with the news. Jan’s funeral was four days later, right at a month shy of their 50th anniversary.

The next Monday, Roger was back on a ladder, painting the east side of the house that he’d started the week before. When he left his garage door open, I noticed that his F-150 now sat in the center of the garage, since there was no car taking up the left stall. I’m sure he has regrets, as anyone does. While he was out walking Checkers, he told Teri, “Don’t miss any chance to say ‘I love you.’” But it also sounds like he’s looking back on a pair of long lives lived well. He told Teri that he and Jan traveled everywhere they wanted to when they were younger, making a point of doing it while they still had the health.

And now on this Thanksgiving week, he’s out on at least one last big journey. He’s carrying Jan’s jewelry down to their daughter living in Kentucky, not ready to commit them to the post office’s care. Godspeed, Roger. We’ll be waiting for you to get home and put up those Santa lights.

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