The Temporary Neighbors
Too many years have passed for me to remember the names of the family of four we lived next to in the fall of 2009. But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.
My own family of four was in the process of moving from South Carolina’s Low Country to the Upstate in 2009. We had spent the summer living in our “cabin” which was really a garage with 14ft ceilings, double garage doors, a loft, and one bathroom. We had hired a contractor to cut off half the roof and turn it into a 3 bedroom, 2 bath forever-home. To do that, we had to get out for at least four months. We looked at the rental market and were quite discouraged when finally word-of-mouth led us to a rental home within a couple miles of our own; we would be able to keep an eye on construction and get our sons started in the same school district.
The house we rented was a former Sales Office for a cheap home builder. It had been moved to a rural location, on a gravel road, and somewhat prepared for tenants. As the weather grew colder that fall we realized it had no insulation, but it was only temporary we told ourselves.
Our landlord told us that he felt sorry for the family who lived next door. He said from time to time their power would be turned off and he allowed them to run an electrical cord the 150-200 ft to his house to have a temporary power source. He said that obviously we were not committed to continue this.
We moved into the rental in September. At some point in the first few weeks I “accidentally” kicked the extension cord that was plugged in on our back deck. (Yes, I am a passive-aggressive type person.) The next day I noticed it was plugged in again, so I tripped over it again. A couple hours later we met the neighbors. The husband did not have a job. The wife was a cashier at the only nearby convenience store. The children were elementary age. The family didn’t have a working vehicle. The kids rode the school bus. Their only reliable means of transportation was a moped. We agreed we would let them continue using our power but on a short-term basis. It was only temporary, we told ourselves.
When Halloween rolled around, the little boy and girl were our first and only trick-or-treaters. We gave them everything we had and even some loose change, and it was greatly appreciated. The father said they were trying hard to get their power restored. They soon listed their house for sale, but it’s difficult to show a home that doesn’t have power.
One night, around 3AM, I was awakened by an odd sound. It was a high pitch, squealing sound like water sometimes makes coming out of a faucet. I checked the bathrooms and kitchen but nothing was running. The sound had stopped. But as I got back into bed, it began again. I followed the sound to the front of the house. When I opened the front door, the neighbor man looked at me wide-eyed with plastic water jugs in his hands. He was filling bottles at our outdoor faucet. Evidently, they had had their power cut off once again and when you rely on a water well, no electricity means no water. I was not happy. I told him he could have all the water he needed but “Good God man, come back in the daylight!”
Our own family was struggling emotionally with the move by the end of November so we decided to decorate for Christmas as early as we could. We pulled the tree out of storage and decorated it. With the lights we had left, we strung strands along the rails of the 10x14 back deck. I promise we were not trying to flaunt our “wealth” but it broke our hearts that evening when we plugged in the lights and from the neighbor’s house below you could hear the children gasp with awe at three simple strands of white lights. Within a few days, the neighbors had their own outdoor Christmas lights.
At this point, our house renovation was nearing completion. We would be moving in by mid-January. Jenni and I had the discussion that it was Christmas and we could deal with this for a little longer, so we allowed them to remain plugged into our power. The next few weeks had some brutally cold weather, even some snow. We made arrangements with our landlord to move out in January. He called us when the final utility bill arrived and asked if anything unusual had gone on. Well, yeah. The final bill was well over $400 when it had never been over $200 prior to that. We surrendered our half-month deposit to pay it. The pain was only temporary we said.
I don’t know what happened to that family. We didn’t go by there again for a couple years and by that time there was a privacy fence between that house and the one we rented. We heard they had finally sold their property (or worse).
Not all stories have happy endings. For us, it was only temporary.