AT ABOUT 3:30 IN THE MORNING during the snowstorm last Saturday, I thought I heard a knock on the front door, followed by the doorbell.
It was enough to wake me up.
But as I lay in bed I thought it must have been a dream. Otherwise, Buddy the Dog—sleeping in his kennel beside the front door—would have barked.
As it turns out, not necessarily. Black Labrador retrievers are groggy at 3:30 a.m., too.
I got up to check Buddy.
He was standing in his kennel. I went downstairs to let him out in the backyard for a few minutes. While he did what dogs do, I went to the front door to have a look.
There was about 8 inches of snow on the ground—and fresh footprints just outside my door.
The footprints led directly to the house of one of my many neighbors.
Had they come looking for help?
All the lights in their house seemed to be on.
At the home of another neighbor, I saw the garage door wide open, lights on.
About 15 minutes later a police car pulled up in front of my neighbor’s house.
Two officers escorted my neighbor’s high school-age son out of the house and into the squad car.
The boy’s hands were bound behind him. He was screaming.
An officer came to my door and knocked. I invited him to step in because it was still snowing.
I said I thought I had heard a knock and a doorbell earlier. He said it was him, but that things went bad at the neighbor’s house and he had to rush back.
He said the boy had been at a party and had come home drunk and angry, smashing some mailboxes in the neighborhood, mine included.
I told the officer that it was just a mailbox and I’ve had mailboxes trashed before.
My first thought was not about the mailbox.
It was about the boy’s dad. He’s a single father.
One of the reasons I thought he might feel particularly bad about my mailbox getting smashed is because during this winter season I have used my snowblower to clear his driveway twice—after each of our two snowstorms. I had done that for other neighbors in the area, too. I was just playing with my new Man Toy, more than trying to do a good deed.
Police officer gone, I went back to bed. There was church in the morning.
Seven thirty seemed to come a little earlier than normal. My wife, a nurse, had spent the night sleeping at the hospital because administrators expected that the morning shift would have a hard time making it to work during this storm. So it was just me and Buddy the Dog.
Most churches were closed on Sunday because of the storm. Ours remained open for fools like me. I decided to go, mainly just to see if I could get there.
I took out my snowblower and cleared my driveway quickly. This was snowstorm number three of the season.
I was late for church, so I didn’t clear anyone’s driveway.
But at church it occurred to me that my neighbor might think that I didn’t clear his driveway this time because I was upset about the mailbox.
I didn’t want him to think that.
When I got home, I cranked up the snowblower and cleared the half of his driveway that he uses most often. Then I moved on and cleared some other driveways in the area. It was tough work this time because the snow was wet, heavy, and drifted.
Later that afternoon a knock came to the door.
It was the teenager who had smashed my mailbox.
Looking down at his feet, he apologized. He said he had just lost his temper.
He thanked me for clearing his driveway and he said he’d replace my mailbox today.
I told him sometimes it’s tough to be a teenager and that things happen that push us over the edge. I told him it happens to all of us.
“You’re forgiven.” I held out my hand and he shook it.
A little while later his dad came over. He apologized, too.
I told him that I know it’s tough to raise teenagers. I said that as parents our highest highs and lowest lows are often tied to our kids.
I told him, too, that he shouldn’t beat himself up over this.
He said that is exactly what he has been doing. He has been asking himself how he had failed.
I told him that kids make their own choices. And that they come to us wired differently. Some kids are more inclined to test the limits than other kids. You can have four kids in one family raised by the same parents, with three of them turning out as straight arrows and one kid turning out a tad bent.
Sometimes it’s not as much a matter of parenting as it is a matter of kids making their own choices. And learning some lessons the hard way. Like the rest of us.
The dad said when he saw me clearing the driveway today he thought, “We smash his mailbox and this is what he does. These are the kind of neighbors we have.”
The first time I had cleared his driveway several weeks ago he came over to thank me.
The second time he didn’t come over. But on this day he told me why.
“I was sick as a dog. When I heard the snowblower going out there I just looked up and said ‘Thank you.’”
A little while later in the day a mom and her two kids came to my front door. I had cleared their driveway a few times, too.
The mom handed me a huge apple pie. I didn’t know they made pies that big.
“We want to give this pie to you to thank you for clearing our driveway.”
All three of them looked up at me with great big smiles.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “I just feel kind of guilty watching my neighbors use snow shovels to clear something that the snowblower can clear so easily.”
The boy and his dad replaced my mailbox early that evening.
A bit later, I saw the boy shoveling the other side of his driveway.
I opened my front door, called out his name and said, “Would you like to use the snowblower to finish that off?”
“If you don’t mind.”
I never intended to become the Neighborhood Snowblower Guy. I was just playing with my Toy.
I had bought the snowblower a couple of years ago. But we had a really light winter that first year. I didn’t get to use it all.
So this year, when 10 inches of snow got dumped on us during our first snowstorm, it was party time for me. My Toro tore through that light, dry snow. I was done with my driveway in just a few minutes. That didn’t seem like an adequate test. So I moved on to my neighbors. Between me and one of the other neighbors in the area, we cleared five driveways that morning.
I thought snow that deep would be a one-time event, perhaps never again in my life. We don’t normally get snows like that.
But less than a week later we got the second storm. A foot this time. So I felt kind of obligated to the neighbors. I cleared their driveways again.
Then this past Saturday, storm number three hit. Well, doggone. I feel committed now.
I kinda suckered myself into this. Just playing.
It’s now one more thing on my plate. Another to-do for the list.
But I’m thinking it might be one of my better to-do’s.
For one, neighbors wave at me now and yell out hellos. They used to just drive their cars inside the garage and hit the button to close the door.
For another, late last night I heard scraping at my front door. In my hurry earlier in the day to clear the driveways, I had forgotten to clear the snow off my front porch.
The scraping sound was the snow shovel of my teenage neighbor.