The Arbor Outlook: Neighbors, Christmas, and 'All The King's Men'

“It is not hard to love men for the things they endure and the words they do not speak.”
“All The King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren

Decades back we were fortunate to live next door to a retired Air Force veteran. Though he passed away long ago, I think of him often, especially during the Christmas season.

Mr. C.B. was the kind of next door neighbor that everyone hopes to inherit when they buy a house. He faithfully threw back without complaint every football, basketball, baseball, Wiffle ball, tennis ball, Frisbee and toy that emanated from games in our back yard. I never heard him utter a negative word or respond to a “Good morning” across the fence with anything less than a smile and heartfelt “Howdy.” If you asked C.B. how he was faring, he invariably answered, “Oh, fair to partly cloudy,” and then he’d laugh out loud.

C.B. rarely left his house because his wife had suffered a debilitating stroke and required constant care, which he cheerfully provided. Each afternoon, in the warmest part of the day, C.B. wheeled her out the back door and sat with her in the sunshine. Occasionally she would point out bushes she would like boxed or tree limbs that needed trimming, and C.B. would walk over to the plant or tree and begin the work as requested. Mostly, they simply sat and held hands and enjoyed the sunshine together.

His wife’s quality of life was very compromised, and C.B. altered his own lifestyle to care for her. He could have exhibited anger or resentment, but he never let his family situation dictate his mood. He was unfailingly cheerful and polite.

He took pride in his yard and mowed and edged it and weeded his small vegetable garden well into his 70s. Money meant little to C.B. except in terms of what it could provide in the way of medicine and treatment for his wife. Most likely he would have traded his life savings if his bride could have returned to health. I wondered sometimes if the couple harbored dreams of travel in retirement. Or if they longed to move nearer children or other family. Those things became much more problematic as she aged and her condition worsened. That said, he remained positive, upbeat and happy for as long as I knew him.

Everything is relative, including money. Our financial goals and dreams are important. And striving to reach them is a laudable goal. But without good health they mean little. C.B. taught me that. His was a grateful soul, a countenance complete with happiness and joy in the little things around him that provided him pleasure. Merry Christmas, C.B.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.