When I was afraid of my crabby neighbor

Karen Hume of the fantastic blog, Profound Journey, posted 25 Totally Terrifying Meaning of Life Questions Worth Asking Yourself. I bookmarked them and intend to answer one every so often. For me, it really is terrifying. Even though I share a lot of my life on my other site, Facing Cancer with Grace, there’s also a lot I keep to myself. In an effort to be brave and transparent I am going to share a childhood memory of my crabby neighbor as I answer question # 7:

When was the first time you were afraid? (Question from Natalie Goldberg).

When I was about 5 years old…

I lived in St. Paul. We had an alley behind our home that was perfect for riding a bike down, as it started on one street which was at a higher elevation than the street it emptied onto.

I knew all of our neighbors except for one, the neighbor who lived across the street. But I did know about him—at least I thought I did. I thought he must be mean. He was old (like most of my neighbors). I didn’t see him a lot, and when I did, he appeared to be a very angry man. It was something about his body language, the way he pinched up his face. He walked as though he had a stone in his shoe. He would scold neighborhood children for being too loud. When he took out his trash (which was when I saw him most often) He would toss the bag into the can with a crash. Now that I’m older, I think he probably was in pain from some physical ailment. As a 5-year-old, I didn’t understand that. What I did know was that I didn’t ever want to run into my crabby neighbor.

Then one day I did

It was spring of 1980. I was wearing cut off shorts and a white top with thin horizontal rainbow stripes. The sun was hot on the top of my head. My feet were dirty from playing barefoot all morning. The massive lilac bush at the end of the ally was so fragrant that I could smell it from the top of the hill where I straddled my banana seat bike. It had stars and stripes on it that reminded me of Wonder Woman.

I had only recently learned how to ride without training wheels in that very alley. It didn’t take long for me to feel very confident in my abilities as a cyclist extraordinaire. I had been riding up and down the alley all morning long. Down was the best. I could feel the breeze as I coasted at top speed.

Then it happened

I was coasting down the hill and my foot slipped off the pedal. The bike wobbled as I lost my balance and down I tumbled. I landed on my left side. My right foot seared with pain. Somehow the pinky toe on my right foot became caught between the chain and the sprocket of my bike. It was bleeding which scared me even more. I cried out in pain. I looked toward my house which may as well have been a mile away. How would I get there?

Then I saw my crabby neighbor

I don’t know if he heard me crying or if he just happened to come outside at that point, but he was there, walking in my direction. I was so afraid of him that tried to squirm away from my crabby neighbor, but I couldn’t. “Settle down. What’s going on here?” He lifted up the bike and turned the pedal backward. My toe was released. It was bloody, bruised, and black from the chain grease. “You’ll be okay.” His voice was still gruff.

I got to my feet and picked up my bike. I whimpered a “thank you” and limped back to my house.

“Get some shoes on.”

A lesson learned

I never encountered my crabby neighbor, again. I also never rode my bike barefoot, again. For some reason, in the narrative of my life, this was a profound experience. Maybe it was the intense physical pain combined with fear and helplessness that has etched it so firmly in my memory. It was also interesting that looking back, I have a fondness for my crabby neighbor. Everything I know about him is tainted by my 5-year-old perspective. It would be nice to be able to go back in time and tell him how much I appreciate him helping me out that day.

I’m sure I had been afraid earlier in my life, but this is the earliest memory I have of being afraid. What is YOUR earliest memory of being afraid? Did you have a memorable neighbor?

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

4 thoughts on “When I was afraid of my crabby neighbor”

  1. Good story. Just an adult saying, “It’ll be OK” is so comforting for a child.

    I walk my dog every day and try to place my face in an inviting appearance. I’m like that crabby old man–I know unattended to, I look sour or angry. Not my intention! So I feel for others like that. I could see that being from pain, too.

    • Hi Jacqui. It’s interesting that we have to consciously smile at people. I know some people do this without thinking, but I have to be intentional about it. It often feels weird, but the response is always wonderful. I try to smile at others in passing so that they have had at least one positive expression of friendliness in their day. It is definitely hard to do when you are in pain, though. Have a wonderful day!

  2. I’m sure I have one of those crabby resting faces, too. I don’t remember my earliest scary memory. I know a couple traumatic things happened that I’ve suppressed. (My mother falling off a ladder and a dog bite.) At least, I think that’s where my phobias came from.

    • Hi Liz. I was bitten in the face by a dog and had to have about 30 stitches, but the crabby neighbor still took top billing as my earliest scary memory. Weird, huh? The whole dog bite thing went so fast I didn’t have time to be afraid. As children, we perceive things so differently from when we are adults. Have an awesome week!

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