Harry and Alma were our next-door neighbors for many years. We met them the weekend we moved into our home. It was uncommonly chilly for Sacramento that May, and we were having difficulty lighting the pilot light on the furnace. I don't know why, but my husband went next door and introduced himself to Harry looking for help so that his pregnant wife wouldn't freeze. Little did he know that Harry installed the furnace for the previous owner, who was a single female. Actually, Harry knew our home like the back of his hand. (I'm sure he sometimes wished he didn't.)
Harry and Alma owned a farm in Kansas, and Harry was retired from Union Pacific Railroad. Alma's mother died when she was in the 8th grade, and she quit school to help her father raise her eight brothers and sisters. They were great people, and very devout Lutherans. Neither my parents, nor Danny's parents lived in California, so Harry and Alma became our "local" parents, and eventually an extra set of grandparents to our children.
The neighborhood gathering place on warm evenings was Harry's driveway. He would pull out his chair and one for Alma in the driveway. As neighbors would stop by, he'd pull out a few more chairs. In the daytime the driveway was home to all the kids in the neighborhood. Roller skates, skate boards, bicycles -- all skills were learned in that driveway -- and many bicycle repairs.
On those days when I'd had enough of motherhood and even had enough of Danny, I'd run next door and pour my heart out to Alma who was nothing if not a good listener. By the time I'd leave Alma's house, I was ready to face anything.
Harry became the official "go to guy" anytime we were doing a household project. I love Danny, but he is almost as bad at household projects as my father -- and that takes a lot of effort. Harry was incredibly patient with Danny. On one occasion after Harry got too old to actually do the work, I went to get him, sat him on a chair in my garage, and said, "Okay, Harry. You're going to sit there and tell me how to fix this dryer." He walked me through the process of taking off the back of the dryer, cleaning out the lint, changing a belt, and putting it all back together again. I thought that Harry was helping me, but I soon realized that Harry felt useful again, and that was a big deal for him.
I remember when I was pregnant with Ezra (3rd in the lineup of 4). I was so sick. Molly and Hannah would just wear me out. One day after lunch I sent the girls out in the front yard to play, while I laid on the couch and watched them through the big picture window in our living room. It wasn't long before Harry pulled out his chair from his garage and pulled it up far enough so that I could see him. He motioned for me to go to sleep, and that he would watch the girls. This went on every day for several more weeks until Ezra was finally born. I can't tell you how much I appreciated that nap!
Harry always wore coveralls (habit from his railroad days). My sister sent a couple of pairs of coveralls in a bag of hand-me-downs, and Molly was in heaven because she could dress like Harry. Molly wore coveralls for the longest time -- with a San Francisco Giants baseball cap on backwards (and usually covering her eyes).
I could tell that Harry had always ruled his household, and what he said was law in his home. I think he got quite a kick out of the fact that I stood up to Danny. On many occasions I would see him turn his head and chuckle when I'd give Danny whatfor about some household project or something that I disagreed with Danny about. I'm probably the first female he ever knew that didn't wimp out at the sound of a man's voice. I think Alma learned a little from me in that regard, as well. She got a little fiesty there at the end.
All my kids loved Harry and Alma. Ezra was completely devastated when Harry died. I don't think I've ever seen a kid cry that much at a funeral. Harry's family felt really sorry for Ezra that day. The kids helped me tie a yellow ribbon around Harry's tree the day he died. It wasn't long after that Alma left us too. I sit at my computer ever single day on Harry's chair. It's old. It hurts my backside. But I won't give up Harry's chair. Oh how I miss them!