I haven’t written much in a while. I’m not sure why other than we were getting ready to move, we moved, and I still seem to be looking for my groove.
But last week, something happened that has made me write. Our former neighbor, from the town we just left, passed away. Mr. McGurl was no ordinary neighbor.
When we first moved into the house across the street from Mr. McGurl, JJ was a newborn, and Mia was three. Mr. McGurl was 76. He was 76 with the spirit of a young boy. He greeted us with his huge grin, Pats hat, and twinkling eyes. “C’mon over,” he said and brought us to his house where he showed Mia a chimpanzee sitting on the toilet. He had rigged a chimp poster in the mirror to make it look like the chimp was on the toilet. How can you better befriend a 3-year-old than with a combination of potty and monkey humor?
With that introduction, he and Mrs. McGurl quickly became our kids’ third set of grandparents. He dressed up as a witch for Halloween, showering the kids with candy and hugs. He and his family gave Mia and JJ cards and trinkets for every holiday. He was Santa and the Easter Bunny all rolled up in one.
Our calendar was the McGurls. Was it recycling day, or would it be tomorrow because of the holiday? We’d check the McGurls’ sidewalk. They planted azaleas. It’s safe to plant annuals. Their mums are out. Guess it’s time to get rid of our sad azaleas.
A Master Plumber, Mr. McGurl worked almost until the end. Even when he retired, he made it his business to supervise any work in my house or my neighbor’s (plumbing or not). He wanted to keep an eye on the action, make sure everything was copasetic.
In addition to being a man about town, who had a smile for everyone, Mr. McGurl had served in the Korean War. He was extremely proud of his service and flew the flag throughout the year, taking care to take it down during bad weather. He taught my kids such a personal pride in serving our country.
Over the five years we lived across from him, he had numerous health issues, which he never once told us about. We only heard what he had been through if we covertly asked his family members. His health problems never stopped him. He’d get out of the hospital, only to be out on his riding mower the next day. He kept his yard in impeccable shape, putting us younger folks to shame.
I liked to mow the lawn at the end of the day. I needed a break from the kids, and I liked the physical exertion, and my husband was excited to see the kids after a long day away from them. It worked for me to mow the lawn. Mr. McGurl would come over and say, “Huh? Can’t get that husband of yours to mow the lawn, can you?” with a big wink. Lest you think he was sexist, he deferred all decisions to his wife. He referred to her simply as “Boss” as in “I don’t know. You’re going to have to go ask Boss.”
He and his spunky bride were married for sixty years. We celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary at a big party put on by their daughters a few months ago. The love between the McGurls and for the McGurls was astounding. Their eyes never stopped twinkling. Their sense of humor stayed strong through tragedy after tragedy, through one health crisis after another. Mr. McGurl dressed as Elvis. He disco-danced. He wore a ridiculous wig to pick up Mrs. McGurl at the beauty shop.
My husband Dave and I went golfing, years ago, for our anniversary. At the ninth hole, I stood under a shady tree and began to cry. Under that tree was a memorial stone with a man’s name that said, “He was a great guy. He would’ve loved you. You would’ve loved him.” At the time, I thought what a perfect tribute. From those simple words, I could picture this man. Last night, when I went to Mr. McGurl’s wake and heard the stories everyone told about him, I thought that stone could have been made for him.
Our kids wrote an acrostic poem about Mr. McGurl for the McGurl family, which I think sums him up perfectly:
Ray of sunshine
Loved the toilet chimpanzee
He was a great guy. He would’ve loved you. You would’ve loved him.