A few years ago, I met a young mother in our neighborhood. After growing up in an Austin suburb, she said she was happy to move here and to have better neighbors. She just wasn’t sure how to be one herself. I couldn’t help but remember Neb and Helen Parson, our neighbors for 10 years.
Neb always had an abundance of tools and farm implements, and he planted a small garden behind his garage, where it got the most sun. Helen knew the art of soul-satisfying home cooking, and every year she preserved the harvest from Neb’s garden. Mostly, they worked together in an easy rhythm, although they clearly disagreed about exactly what to plant during different phases of the moon.
Occasionally, one of them would call us on the phone and say, “Meet me at the fence.” As they did with so many other neighbors, they’d share with us just-picked vegetables from the garden, a home-cooked meal, tools for a project, or news of the family or neighborhood. For years after Neb and Helen moved away, the coral honeysuckle that everywhere else had grown up and beyond the fence never filled in where they “met us at the fence” and showed us just how easy it was to be a good neighbor.
We have continued to stay in touch with them through phone calls, letters, and visits after they moved back to Arkansas in 1995, to live near their families and where they had grown up. One summer, Helen sent us a photo of Neb’s “garden,” then closer to the size of a football field than the small urban garden he had here in Austin (click to enlarge the picture of just part of it, below). For years, Helen canned much of what they grew; today she continues to cook and bake and share with family, friends, and neighbors.
For Christmas in 2008, I mailed Neb and Helen a copy of the Brentwood/Crestview history booklet I’ve compiled over the years. It was good timing. Two months later, Helen called to tell us Neb had passed away. She said they both loved the history and cried when they read what I had written about them.
Today, we visit with new neighbors where Neb and Helen lived. Just last fall, the young couple built a pergola and planted a long bed of native landscaping and fragrant roses all along the fence between our yards. Neb and Helen would have loved it.
Ernest Tubb, the Texas Troubadour, said it well:
Be better to your neighbors, and you’re gonna have better neighbors, doggone ya.
Neb and Helen had that one down. I continue to learn.