Mr. Margaret Mead

Your neighbors

Here’s another story about interesting people who cloak themselves as your neighbors. Keep a sharp eye, and you might find that the man or woman living next door to you is actually a fascinating human being. Engage them. Find out what they do. Learn what they think. The Shepherd Center in Atlanta stresses heavily that one needs the support of friends and family to heal fully and quickly from brain injury. Next door is a great place to start.

I worked in construction when I was young and was good at it. I loved craft and had a good sense of detail. And I actually finished things that I started, a rare skill among carpenters. This made me popular with a local insurance company who provided me with a good bit of clean-up work after storms. One day I was asked to go talk to an old fella who lived out in the woods. A tree fell on his garage, and the insurance company needed a bid for the repair.

Hood Canal and orcas

I drove to his house on Hood Canal, and the setting was gorgeous. On any dismal Northwestern morning, he could sit in his kitchen nook and drink coffee, while watching killer whales play in the water. He had one of the older seaside bungalows in an area not yet leveled for a gaudy faux-Craftsman with a view. The house had clear twelve-inch cedar lap siding – so rare that it wasn’t even available – and wooden window frames. His garage was practically demolished when a stout, thick fir fell right through the roof, snapping the ridge and collapsing three walls. I bid on the job, got it, and then suffered through three weeks of ocean air and watching waves roll up on the shore while rebuilding the garage. Once we started, the owner, probably as old as that twelve-inch siding, would invite me inside for coffee each morning. I noticed that he read the Wall Street from cover to cover, circling articles and investments with a red pencil. I’m a fan of money and am especially fond of giving it away in the stock market, so we talked about investing a lot.


One day he asked me to get something from the sideboard near the table. Nextext to the papers he needed was a picture of him and a woman, arm-in-arm, beaming with broad grins. “Hey!” I said. “Is that you and Margaret Mead? How do you know Margaret Mead?” He laughed a little and confessed that he ran the anthropology department at Columbia for twenty years. “I knew everybody!”

With apologies to any family or friends of Ms. Mead, he continued. “Maggie and I used to go out a bit when she was around. She was one of the best gals I ever knew: smart as a whip and ready to jump in the sack with any warm body who was up for it!” He thought that was pretty funny and let out a huge laugh. I didn’t press him on whether he was up for it or not, but I’m guessing that he was. So he taught me a bit about anthropology and lots about investing. And I would have bet a thousand dollars that nary a soul living next to him in their new tract-style home had a clue about what a fascinating man lived right next door.

So you never know who might be dealing with. Stay awake and keep your eyes open.

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