Sitting on my screened porch watching fall sneaking in like a misty-morning stranger, I study two vacant houses and wonder what happened to long-ago neighbors.
One was Lyle Bert, 64 when I knew him in 2000.
When warm weather brought new birds and shaggy grass, Lyle was the first on the block to bring his mower out of hibernation. Legally blind and with mangled hands, he wore sunglasses while resting the handlebar in the crook of his arms as he mowed in the same geometric pattern — as precise as purported UFO markings in unsuspecting farmers’ fields.
Like a rooster crowing, the sound of the mower awakened enough guilt in his neighbors to make us redeem our own machines from winter sleep for that first summer haircut.
Lyle’s back yard orchard of apple trees and a 65-foot pecan tree was the envy of many in more luscious neighborhoods. Using a rope ingeniously strung from limbs high in the tree, with one mighty tug he shook enough pecans down to make a pie.
At the time, he had been living alone for 35 years.
In 1965, while working for a Clayton radio station, he went outside during a long-playing record to detonate a home-made “firework.” That was the last time the sun and his eyes ever crossed paths.
He told me he’d never felt any bitterness and didn’t believe in being a victim.
As a man who didn’t bother turning on the lights unless he had visitors, Lyle admitted he’d contemplated suicide a few times.
He told me before the accident he was driven by success, but after by people — and wouldn’t trade for his former life.
I’ll always remember him telling me when he died he just wanted to know he’d paid for his time and space.
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