Most likely the smallest town left on the planet.
With no more stores and businesses than needed.
You had two neighborhoods that each had about fifty houses.
One hundred small houses.
Housing one hundred small families.
Everyone knew everyone down to their bad habits.
There was nothing new or extensive within a five mile radius. Still this town was no utopia. You had your drunks, cheaters, and stealer. Only difference was here everybody knew the faces and names. We have our one elementary school with its host of bullies as did the middle and high school.
It was a plain town with normal people, a normal town with plain people.
Still everyone managed to make about the same amount of money to afford the same kind of life style. Some made less, few made a lot of money. Fewer went to church. Fewer ever really moved out of town.
There was an empty field. Often the kids would be found there on hot summer days and during blistering winter snows. Utilizing the field as a play war-zone or perfect racing ground.
I will never forget the day the bulldozers came in. You could hear them trucking down the road from miles away and everybody felt the shift in the air when they came. It’s not normal for our town.
First they cut down the couple trees in that small field. They put up orange plastic nets that kept us from our field.
Then the construction started.
It was the buzz of the town. All my mom and dad talked about. The grocer, the butcher, the bank teller.
“You have any idea what in the world they’re doing with that lot?!”
Rumors started spreading faster than fire.
“A house,” said one.
“No, a mall,” said others for whatever they were building was way too big to be a home.
The gates around the property resembled a wall. Thick brick. Circling the property. The building inside it built so high you could see its top from anywhere in the town.
Then the moving trucks came. And the resident or residents moved in.
Weeks went by and we never saw who lived there.
Some saw the home as power and a potentially good thing for our community. Others feared that power.
The rumors were flying as this home had been established for two months. We saw a vehicle come and go but never a person. Never any people. Never a new face in town. So where an absence of a person was, the speculations grew taller and wilder.
My mama would complain, “I wish they would be so courteous as to make themselves acquainted with the others who share this town… we don’t bite!”
The gossip of the luxury that was on the other side of that wall was quite alluring, as the outer appearance of it was more exquisite than anyone’s house front—white washed brick wall with large swinging gates as big as my parents’ two bedroom home.
And that white car with black windows that would come and go.
Seasons changed quickly and the buzz died down a little. The large house simply became just that. An unknown thing.
I was walking my regular walk home from middle school. At a point in my walk I parted ways with most of my friends and continued to my house alone on the dirt road I’ve tread for years.
I decided to go past the old field where they built that mansion.
Nobody dared get close. Some wanted to avoid suspicion others feared the homeowner to be a brute. But I was curious. How big were those walls? Would I be able to see above them? Did anybody even live there anyway?
The green grass around the outside of the gate was slowly leaking its color and wearing a more yellow-toned appearance as fall crept onto the small town.
I zipped my jacket to my chin to counter the chill of the chilly fall air.
I walked slowly up to the wall as the grass crunched beneath my feet. I was always aware of my surroundings. I looked around to assure no witnesses.
My heart exploding in my chest. My legs ready to flee at any point. Telling myself, “You’re the fastest runner on the girls track team, no need to fear. You could get out of here so fast if you needed to…”
I finally reached the white brick. I put my hand out to touch it. Cold, hard, and most likely never even touched. “Wow,” I thought.
I felt bold, fearless, and in awe. “This is the most deluxe thing I will most likely ever see. Especially if I never make it out of this dumb town where so many are born and die.”
“Pretty nice, huh?!”
A feeble old man with a cane was standing there smiling at me. His eyebrows raised in suspicion. His half smile saying he was having way too much fun catching me right now.
I completely abandon my plan to run as I stood there frozen in fear, not sure if I should apologize or introduce myself as he seemed rather calm.
“Name’s Leonard, you know like Lynyrd Skynyrd.” He chuckled and looked to the sky then he mumbled under his breath through the whiskers on his face.
“You’re probably too young for that one kid… say how old are you?”
“I’m… I’m… I’m… 12,” I gulped, eyes glued on this man.
“You got a name?”
“Name’s Jodi Ann Nemoy, sir. I’m sorry I…”
“Nice to meet you, Jodi. Why don’t you help me get some trash out to the street? I normally have hired help, but you look young and able. And I won’t tell anybody about you being here.”
“Gee sir, I dunno if my ma…”
“Ahhhhhh,” he barked “I’m no creep or lunatic, come help me,” he said sounding sad, old, and desperate.
He turned and shuffled slowly embracing his body weight on the elaborate wooden cane.
I felt shocked and wanted to run. Yet I felt the curiosity wrap me up as my legs shuffled behind him.
I was thinking, “Jodi, this is how old farmer Krendal’s daughter was raped! Run!… what are you doing?!”
I couldn’t tell if I felt safe or was being led by extreme curiosity at this point. This was the biggest thing that’s happened to this town in decades probably. And I was being invited into it.
He bent over to the key pad in the massive gate and winked my way.
“No peeking, Jodi.”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
I quickly bent my neck and squeezed my eyes tight as the thoughts spun around inside of my brain some more, “Why are you doing this? You’re going to end up on a murder mystery special.”
We continued, and I looked behind me as the gates closed me in. I wondered if I would ever walk out of them again. “Oh, Jodi what have you gotten yourself into…”
We walked down the long drive way as he asked me simple questions disarming my fear. He asked about school and my family. He asked what others had been saying about him so I told him.
“Miss Denny at the grocers said you’re most likely a big, mean city investor, or maybe she said broker—I’m not sure what either of those mean—but that you have come to ruin our simple ways of living. She speculated that your gonna build huge neighborhoods and shopping centers to pull in rich folks and force us out. She wanted to get rid of you.”
“Interesting,” Leonard grumbled curiously.
“Yeah, and my math teach Mr. Wreaths said you’re probably a snooty pop star trying to hide from your fame.”
He puffed out a little laugh, “A snooty pop star?!”
“Yes sir! And some of my friends think you’re a rich ball player, some of my friends are orphans and they joked about hoping you’d adopt them so they could get out of Miss Plastly’s home for children.“
He smiled and looked down shaking his head back and forth.
“Well that’s a lot of assuming for people who have never come to my door.”
“In all honesty, Mr. Leonard, I think we’re just intimidated by you.”
Mr. Leonard looked at me and smiled.
“We are who we are child, with all our complications.”
We finally reached his towering three-car garage. The left garage door was open, and we stepped in.
I was shocked to see the one car. Nothing else was in the garage.
Nonetheless, I helped him with his trash. He pointed to the end of the drive way and said, “Now Jodi, you bring this to the end of the driveway. Get home safe then, dear. I will open the gate from the inside just hit the button with the bell.”
“Nice meeting you Mr. Leonard.”
I started walking away when I stopped and turned around.
“Mr. Leonard, could I come back tomorrow?”
“I supposed if you would like too help me with something again, that’s fine.”
I left thinking of how exciting yet bizarre this whole ordeal had been. It was pretty exciting that he built his mansion here, but it’s been months with no new developments. I was the first person from the town to go inside the gate! Nobody would ever believe me. I wondered if I would be able to speak about how kind Mr. Leonard is. I made it to the end of his curing driveway to the gate. I looked back and saw three closed garage doors and a large white mansion, breathtaking with orange hues from the setting sun of our small-town fall. I looked at the gate and located the button.
Once I was on the other side of the gate I ran home as fast as I could. Filled with bubbling adrenaline and wonder. I was already planning on how I would be coming back tomorrow.
I approached my house and burst through the door panting like a dog. My mama stood at the entry way with arms crossed.
“Jodi Ann Nemoy, where have you been? You are an hour later than you have ever been.”
After my mom’s scolding and homework I scarfed dinner down trying as hard as I could to hide where I had been. I was so excited I wanted to tell them the story of our kind, old neighbor who lives in the large house. I wanted to tell them they no longer had to guess about who he was, we could all just go visit. But I was too afraid.
“Hey, mama,” I whispered looking down at my food.
“I need some help with English and Miss Lisa said she is tutoring after school.”
My mama shot me her always skeptical look of suspicion.
“Every day except Wednesdays.”
“Do you need me to sign something for you to be there? Should I call he…“
“NO MAMA…no…” I shouted nearly jumping out of my seat.
“I just… I’m embarrassed by how bad my grade is, that’s all. I just need you to write a note saying I can be there.”
“Very well, Jodi.”
I now had an excuse to investigate more of who our neighbor was. Tomorrow I would visit again.
I continued our visitation tradition for weeks. We would always hang out in the garage and talk or play cards. I was the only one in the town who knew Mr. Leonard. The rumors were still occasionally buzzing. I suppose people get bored.
But over the months I began to know this kind, loving man and his maid. I will never forget the first day I finally went into his home.
I skipped up to the gate. Pressed my gloved finger onto the cold buzzer. Bells rang, gears shifted, and pullies pulled and the gate opened for me. I ran up to the garage where we hung out most of fall to see Mr. Leonard standing as always. I hugged him as the force of my hug made him wobble.
“Jodi, my dear, it’s far too cold for me to play even in the garage anymore, you may either come in or come back in the spring, I am sorry.”
I peaked over his shoulder to the door in the garage that led into his castle-like home.
I stepped back from the hug and agreed.
“Maybe for a little bit I’ll come inside.”
“Let’s go,” he agreed.
We walked into his house where a middle-aged woman in black slacks with a white button-down shirt met us. Her dark hair was tied back.
“Mr. Leonard!” she said amazed, “Who is this? Is this…” She grew silent and eyed me up and down.
“This is the kind young girl I was telling you about.” He spoke nonchalantly while taking his coat off.
“Jodi, my name is Vera, I’m Mr. Leonard’s maid.” She flashed me a movie star smile and I wondered why she wasn’t in Hollywood behind cameras. Her beauty drew me in from the moment we entered. She stretched her hand out to mine and we shook hands gently. Her nails were long and painted a bright red. She wore a gold chain bracelet around her small olive colored wrist.
“Let me take your coat and shoes!”
“You know me?’ I asked confused.
“Well, Mr. Leonard has told me some things about the girl he always goes to the garage to play cards with and share stories with, the sweet girl who helps with the trash and so on.” She kept smiling at me and I wondered who I was that I would be treated with such warmth. I was just a nobody from this small town. I joined in the rumors about people I didn’t even know and made false accusations. But everyone was wrong. These people were kind and warm.
We continued walking into his house, and I gasped as I took it all in…
His mansion had nearly no furniture. We came into a kitchen from the garage. The kitchen was as big as my whole house and had counters and cabinets stretching three long walls, and there was nothing on the counters. There was a large island with flowers. Off of that room was a large living room with a fireplace and windows for walls. We walked in and I stood there as the windows towered over me. I had never seen a wall so large. I stood there in that large room feeling so small, yet so big. There was not enough furniture to come close to filling the room. Way over on the other side where there was a fireplace there were two sitting chairs. He pointed to the two small arm chairs and side table by the glowing fire place. We walked over to sit.
“Vera, would you mind getting a snack for this child?”
“No problem, sir.”
“Mr. Leonard,” I questioned, “why do you have no furniture?”
“That is a long story, Jodi.”
Mr. Leonard looked in the fire and for the first time I sensed pain on him. His face straightened and his heart was heavy.
“I had a daughter. Just like you. Her mother left us when she was about your age. I did my best to raise her. She was smart. She grew up and worked hard and made a lot of money. She was so busy making money and a family that she never really visited me. But one time when she was visiting me she told me she was going to design her dream house. She was so proud!”
He was beaming.
“She had worked so hard, and I was perhaps too hard on her. I begged her to slow down and spend more time with her children and husband and she refused. She began to be consumed with materialism. She saw it as providing a life she never had. She set her mind on a mansion and would see to it.“
He paused intentionally. Swallowed loudly. Vera brought us iced tea and an assortment of cheeses and fruits. Vera placed her arm on Mr. Leonard’s shoulder firmly, smiled at me and walked out of the room. When her footsteps were finally no longer heard, Mr. Leonard looked into the fireplace roaring with flames.
I sat in the arm chair in the empty room regretting my simple question as I could see it had a complicated answer.
“I’m sick, Jodi. Don’t have much time left. Its hard to figure out what it is we want to do with time when were told it will no longer be ours to deal with.”
He sipped the tea. Licked his lips and stared harder at the fire as if he needed to concentrate on these sacred words before he spoke them.
“My daughter was coming to see me with her family. I told her it was urgent, I had just learned I was sick and had a few weeks to live.”
I looked at him puzzled.
“Mr. Leonard, but you’re here now?”
He muttered, “Yes,” and then continued.
“She was on her way to come see me with her family. She had two kids around your age at this time. I had to tell her in person that my time was ending. And on her way, she was in a fatal accident.”
I watched the old stoic man as his broken heart spilled over the rims of his eye lids in the form of tears, his face flexing into sorrow.
“Nobody made it. Nobody survived the crash,” he whispered too low for his words to echo throughout the room.
“That’s why I built her dream home for her. She left me almost everything in her will. I figured I wouldn’t make it to see it finished but here I am. I wasn’t supposed to live this long. This is her house.”
We sat in silence as we soaked in his loss.
He brushed away his tears.
“Well anyway, I didn’t have much furniture, but I decided I would save money. What would really be the point of furnishing a whole mansion when you don’t have that much time left?”
“Why here, Mr. Leonard? Why did you build it here of all the places?”
“Well, I suppose I wanted adventure. Someplace new and unfamiliar. I wanted to find a community that was down to earth, one that might benefit from me donating the building back to the community when I’m gone as a library or orphanage… as long as you do me one favor.”
“What’s that, Mr. Leonard?”
“Name it after her.”
I left that place heart broken that day. Of all the things said about this man nobody knew how kind he was. Nobody knew how hurt he was, and nobody even tried to know him. So, he remained unknown. He lived under other accusations of who he was based off perceptions and appearance. He was one of the greatest things our town ever saw. Unfortunately, our town only ever saw him from the outside and it was their loss.
Picture this. You get onto fb and you start scrolling and you see a friend of yours post something about trump, Or Bernie sander, or Hilary Clinton, or whoever your political arch nemesis is.
And you scoff and think “ugh what is wrong with them, they’re so dumb, so ignorant” but they are still a person…
Or you get on and you see your friend post about how great their life is, how in love they are, how fortunate they are. And you think “wow they just have everything going for them” but they have bad days too…
We do this every single day almost. We get onto social media see a surface level post and make a deep assumption about someone we most likely haven’t hung out with. I wrote this story to illustrate we are the towns people. To illustrate how ironic, it is that we have 100s of friends on Facebook yet there you will find millions of arguments. Most of the story line is for fun. But the point is We put so much effort into being a social justice warrior but are we putting that same effort into getting to know our neighbors and others in our community? We are the towns people who stand on the outside and never try to know someone but talk as if we do. I am guilty of this. You are guilty of this. And it will never change unless we learn to step back and see social media and the output for what it is. It cannot replace personal relationship. I put in bold all the phrases that apply to the story and to the real-life scenario of Facebook ruing healthy personal relationships. I am sure I even missed a few. Now please, please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I am not Jesus not even an eon close to being a holy as he, i will never claim to be. But I know his parables were taught to inspire an action. My hope for this is that it inspires action. Inspires you to meet people outside the realm of social media. challenge yourself, be different.
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To God be all the glory!