Saturday, June 19, 2010

Landscaping, Putting Greens, and Airborne Automobiles

Since I got so off-point with last week's blog, I was determined to write on the topic of retirement this week. But then life threw us a curve on Saturday night/Sunday morning and I must write about it.

Since the story involves our yard and landscaping, I can also include the story of how Joe will never have to cut the grass again....ever! That happened thanks to me!

While playing golf with Navy friends in January of this year, he mentioned that I had taken my Social Security a year early but he was waiting until 70 in order to get the max. The friend asked, "So, are you getting your spousal share of Cathie's?" Joe remembered hearing about that when he went to his pre-retirement workshops, but he had forgotten about it.

Joe went off to the local office and found out that he was entitled but they could only make it retroactive for six months. The date he filed the paperwork was two days short of six months since I had started receiving benefits. Lucky! When he got the lump sum check, he told me he was going to use this new found treasure to replace all of the grass in the backyard with a putting green and a chipping green. One Putt Greens was the company we used and we are incredibly happy with the result. (What Joe didn't factor was my rose bushes that shed their petals onto his putting green whenever the winds pick up....he doesn't have to "mow" but now he has to vacuum.)

We re-landscaped our entire yard, including replacing the driveway with brick overlay, after the years of tricycles, bicycles, and kicking soccer balls were behind us. Joe wanted to minimize lawn-mowing and we both wanted an atmosphere of tranquility. We maintained some of the original landscaping on the slopes including some junipers that are trimmed to resemble bonsai trees (but much bigger of course) but the rest was redone in 2001. Much of the grass was replaced with brick and concrete/aggregate. We put in a pond and a beautiful waterfall that is right outside the windows that run the length of our living room/dining room.

Into that tranquil scene came an uninvited visitor on Sunday morning at 3 a.m. Joe thought he heard a crash on the main road that runs parallel to our smaller street (at the top of a 20 foot slope). He didn’t investigate, but when he heard the sound of tires spinning at around 5 a.m., he got up. He turned on the lights and saw a white car with its inside lights on moving very slowly up the hill in front of our home. He went to the garage to get shoes and a flashlight and by the time he turned on the outside lights and went outside, the car was gone. He checked the front and back of the house, but NOT along the living room/dining room area. He walked up to the corner and down to the neighbor's house, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

Later that morning when we were preparing to go to church, I noticed some black plastic around our waterfall. Upon closer scrutiny, we saw three of our full-grown hedges knocked down along with several smaller bushes and a very large palm tree. A branch on one of the bonsai-shaped juniper (planted 32 years ago) was also knocked off. Joe went outside and this picture is what he saw inside our pond. There were also two orange posts inside the pond. It dawned on us that the noise Joe heard was a car crashing. And it had crashed right into our waterfall. There was plastic and glass all over the place.

Remarkably, the culprit had gotten the car out and then drove it through all the plants in its way to our driveway and out of the neighborhood (it was him that Joe saw when he went in search of the flashlight). We were heart-sick. There’s a feeling of violation when you know someone has done damage to your property and then left you to pick up the pieces.

The next three hours were taken up with police reports, insurance company calls, and all the details associated with a crime scene. The Crime Scene Investigator arrived and took photos from every angle (hers are probably better than these). She also checked shoe imprints and tried to get fingerprints from the orange posts that had been used to help facilitate the exit from the pond. The police were astonished that neither one of us had realized this was happening on our property since at one point he was driving the car about five feet from our living room windows.

For my part, I was grateful that Joe hadn’t confronted whoever did it. The driver might have been drunk or there might have been several people and Joe would have been outnumbered. There were a lot of “what if’s” going on in my mind. (I watch too many crime dramas.) We both agreed that in the grand scheme of things, it could have been worse. The car could have come over the slope at a slightly different angle and could have ended up inside our living room. If that had happened, we might even have had a fire and could have lost much more than plants and trees. Also, the car could have flipped over and a life might have ended in our tranquil yard. You see…I’m very good at “what iffing” (my word). In church I said a prayer for whoever was in that car; thinking he/she must have been injured badly for there to be so many pieces of their car in our yard. (It helped that the homily included the admonition to “care for others”…the scripture was about the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.)

In ordinary circumstances that would be the end of this saga. Prayers said; thankfulness that it wasn't worse; police reports filled out; insurance company called; and decision to put aside anger because it doesn't help.

But the story doesn’t end there. At 2:30 in the afternoon the doorbell rang. When Joe answered, he saw a middle-aged man and a young man standing there. The older of the two introduced himself as the step-father of the younger man and said, "My step-son Jose has something to tell you." Jose then said, "I'm the driver of the vehicle who crashed on your property this morning. I'm really sorry and I came to bring you my driver's license number and insurance information." Flabbergasted doesn’t begin to describe Joe’s reaction.

The step-father went on to say that he had had a “long conversation” with his step-son. A retired Marine, he told the son that he had to “do the right thing.” And he did. He had made copies of his license and proof of insurance. The young man apologized again and shook Joe’s hand. Joe commended him for the courage it must have taken to come to our home and admit his wrongdoing. It was a moment I’m sure neither of them will soon forget. (We still can't believe he wasn't injured beyond a small cut on his right hand. From the damage, the police determined the car was about 4 feet in the air after jumping the curb and before coming to rest in the waterfall.)

Joe called the policeman who is in charge of our case and when he told him what had happened, he replied, “Do you have any idea how rare that is?” Joe said that he did indeed. The police officer said he could not remember ever having someone “own up” to something they had clearly “gotten away with.”

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. It came from Anne Frank's diary and, coincidentally, was written on the day I was born:
"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

There is only one rule that comes to mind for this week's post. I'm sure you've heard it before, but it bears repeating here: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."

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