I was in my mid twenties when I moved into Gulf Freeway Oaks in Southeast Houston. When I left I was in my sixties and had literally grown up there under the watchful and loving eyes of the most wonderful neighbors. Among them were Bob and Carol Hall, a stunningly attractive couple who like Mike and I had moved into the their home many years earlier as twenty years olds. By the time I arrived they had five sons ranging in age from high school teen to pre-school toddler. We became the best of friends in no time because of their generous personalities and I learned a great deal about parenting and general life skills from them.
I was a ball of energy back then and often spent entire Sunday afternoons puttering in my expansive yard that was rivaled in size only by that of Carol and Bob. Before long Bob became regular yard buddies he wearing his straw hat to shade his handsome face from the sun and me being silly enough to get regularly burned. He would stop to take a break and have a smoke and strike up a conversation over the chain link fence. He was a quite interesting man so I was often tempted to forget about the work I needed to do and just spend the afternoon listening to stories about his job and his life. We must have repeated that routine hundreds and hundreds of time over the years and so I got to know Bob rather well.
Bob was a true handyman with a garage filled with tools of every sort and spare parts to fix whatever might need mending. He was as proficient in puttering with cars as doing carpentry or putting a new roof on his home. I marveled at his skills and he and Mike often traded home care tips. Whenever we needed anything or were at the point of frustration with a repair Bob would miraculously show up with advice and just the right tool or item that we needed.
Living in a house built in the nineteen fifties meant there was always something that had to be replaced or fixed. Sometimes there were even extraordinary and unexpected challenges. On one occasion we kept hearing the sound of a meowing cat in our great room. I could not understand how it was possible for it to sound so loud since it had to be coming from outside. I mentioned it to Bob and he suggested that a kitten may have somehow gone onto the roof and then fallen into the chimney for our fireplace. While that sounded a bit bizarre to me experience had taught me not to doubt Bob’s wisdom. He and I traced the sound from the outside and he pointed to the exact place that he thought was the origin of the frightened cries. We took some shingles off the the exterior, cut into the black paper behind it and surely enough there was the tiny creature who was so afraid that she would not allow us to pull her out.
Once again Bob had an idea. We opened a can of tuna and left it for the kitten to find it. I watched from the great room window as the little creature was led from it’s imprisonment by Mama cat into the open where they both gobbled down the treat I had left. Bob and I immediately resealed the area and then he suggested that we enclose the chimney with chicken wire to be certain that we might never experience the problem again. He and Mike went up top and secured the opening for posterity.
That was Bob Hall to a tee, a man with a plan for everything and a great neighbor in every way. He was also a wonderful husband who respected his wife Carol’s wishes by never smoking in the house. We’d often seen him rain or shine, hot or freezing cold standing on his driveway or just inside his garage puffing away. More than that though he taught his five sons how to be great men and he encouraged them to follow their own dreams. They went on to become a salesman, a firefighter, a heating and air conditioning repairman, a nurse and a teacher.
After we moved from the old neighborhood Bob and Carol ultimately did as well. Sadly Carol became ill and died not so long after they had moved into their new home. Bob contacted us to help him with some legal documentation and we agreed to continue meeting regularly because we enjoyed being with each other so much. After that we would meet with Bob at Starbucks and spend hours reminiscing, hearing about kids and grandkids and listening to Bob talk about his role with the Small Business Association and the University of Houston. He had a wry sense of humor that kept us laughing the whole time. One regular joke often repeated was how he rarely went hungry because the “Tupperware ladies” were continually showing up at his door with casseroles and other epicurean delights just to make sure that he was well fed and okay. Since Bob was still a very attractive and sweet man I always believed that many of them may have been hoping to lure him into a more romantic relationships than just friendship but he rarely spoke for long without bringing up Carol. Their’s had been a romance for the ages.
A few years back Bob had a stroke and with it lost much of his capacity for being as entertaining as he had once been. One of his sons told us that Bob did not feel comfortable with visitors and that in fact they tended to make him anxious so we did not get to see him anymore but I always hoped to hear that he had recovered to his old self that we would be able to once again sit for several hours over cups of coffee and tea just talking about a little bit of nothing.
Bob died during the last week of January. His son said that his passing was peaceful. Somehow his death was a somber milestone for me. I realized that Bob had been the last of a team of four neighbors who had literally taken care of Mike and me for forty years. All of them are now gone and knowing that sent me into a state of uncontrolled sobbing. Bob was like a strong and loving and funny big brother to us. It’s tough to know that he is gone but I suspect that he’s happy to be with Carol again and he’s getting lots of welcome hugs from other neighbors who made it to heaven before him. Knowing Bob Hall was a special privilege that I will treasure until that time in the future when I join him and the others once again. To me he will always be Good Neighbor Bob.