Tuesday, March 2, 2010


It was about 4:00 pm when the doorbell rang. It took us somewhat by surprise because we had only been in the house for a few days and weren’t expecting any guests. After all we were still unpacking stacks of boxes into our new home and were not prepared for visitors, unless they were coming to help unpack.

They weren’t.

But there they stood. A happy-looking couple. Probably in their early 70s. Each was holding something in their hands.

He had a small green plant in a small green plastic container. It looked very healthy. He looked at me and smiled.

She had a basket full of vegetables. Seriously, vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, squash and some of the orangest carrots I’d ever seen. The basket looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell illustration. Each item looked almost fake they looked so good. She looked at me and smiled.

“Hi,” I said. “Can I help you?”

“Hi. I’m Hu,” he said, still smiling. “Short for Hubert, but everybody just calls me Hu.”

“And I’m Lu,” she said, also still smiling. “Short for LuAnne, but everybody just calls me Lu.”

“We’re your neighbors from a couple doors down and we just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.” Hu said, as he handed me the plant. “This is the Oxalis Deppei plant, or Iron Cross, for good luck. It’s from my garden.”

“And these,” said Lu, as she handed me the basket full of luscious vegetables, “are from our vegetable garden. The tomatoes are Brandywine heirlooms and they taste absolutely great on sandwiches. Everything is grown organically so you don’t have to worry.”

“Thank you,” I said. “This is so kind of you.”

“Well, we know you’ve got a lot of work to do yet, so we’ll be on our way,” said Hu. “I put my card in the vegetable basket, so if you need anything that you think I can help with, just drop by or give me a call.”

“And once again,” Lu said. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

Both of them were still smiling as they left. I closed the front door and looked at my wife.

“That was Hu and Lu,” I said to her. “We’ve just been welcomed to the neighborhood with a good luck plant and a basket full of some of the best vegetables I’ve ever seen.”

That was more than five years ago.

Fast forward to last week. After the 4-1/2 ton snowfall that was dumped on our driveway (see Feb. 22 post). After we shoveled our driveway clean, we walked over to Hu and Lu’s home to give Hu a hand with his shoveling. He was giving it a valiant effort but it was obviously hard labor. Thank God their driveway was a lot shorter and narrower than ours. It took us about 40 minutes and he was, as always, grateful for our help and yes, still smiling.

He asked me if I could help him with something in the back yard.

My wife headed back home as Hu and I walked around to the back of his house.

There, in the middle of his back yard, were three balls of snow. Each, larger than the other.

“Can you help me finish making this snowman?” Hu asked, almost sheepishly.

“Ummm, sure,” I said, probably sounding confused.

“You see,” Hu said. “Lu really gets a kick out of snowmen, and whenever the snow is good for packing, I always come out and make one for her. Been doin’ since the first year we was married. But the snow is so heavy this time, and you may not have noticed, but I’m gettin’ a little older, and I just need some help before she gets home.”

“I’d be honored to help,” I told Hu.

Well, it took us some grunting and groaning, pushing and moaning, but in the end we had a classic, albeit really heavy, snowman. What was surprising to me, was how much fun Hu seemed to be having through it all. Believe me, it was not an easy task to build that snowman, but Hu kept smiling through it all.

“Thank you, Ed,” he said. “I don’t know how many winters I’ll have left on this earth, but I don’t want to miss one where my Lu doesn’t get her snowmen. Thank you.”

I don’t know exactly how many years it had been since I’d built a snowman, but I was beginning to think it had been way too many. I’ve lost some of the youthful innocence of having simple fun. Hu had not. And as I thought about the years we had been neighbors of Hu and Lu, I began to realize some of the lessons I had learned without ever being aware that I was learning them.

From the first day we met at our front door, to helping him build a snowman for his wife last week, Hu and Lu have unwittingly taught me much about living life joyfully. But there are three things that stand out.

When you meet someone for the first time, give them some of your best. And it doesn’t matter whether you ever see them again or you become good friends, the act of giving your best will make you feel better time and time again.

Smile. Often. I know that some people might worry about “smile lines” showing up on their faces later, but I would rather be blessed with the creases of smiles than be cursed with the furrows of frowns.

No matter how old you get, never forsake the simple fun of your youth. Make snow angels. Jump in a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves. Make a dandelion necklace and wear it. Swing gently on a swing. Roast marshmallows on a stick. Carry your lunch to work in an old-school style lunch box. Remember the simple things you had fun doing as a kid, and continue doing them.

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