A Good Neighbor

Bob Shelor told me he felt the best he had felt in six months, which said a lot for an 80-year-old with a damaged heart and other maladies.

What did Bob do when he had that six-month feeling? He mowed our lawn.

That might not sound like such a big deal except for one thing. Bob didn’t mow his own lawn—the lawn service did.

Bob Shelor had an ancient Snapper mower, similar to this one.
Bob Shelor owned an ancient Snapper mower, similar to this one.

Yes, Bob was feeling especially spry and neighborly. So he lowered himself onto his Snapper—a faded red with faulty brakes and a flat tire—and he mowed our steeply sloped back yard, which was in a mild state of neglect while we vacationed for nine days in Seattle.

I thanked him profusely when we got home. Bob shrugged, as if it was nothing.

My family lives in a Shelor house, built circa 1953 by Bob’s brother, P.L., and P.L.’s wife, Pauline. We’re the second family and the first not named Shelor to reside in this 60-year-old brick home near the elementary school. When folks ask me where I live, I often say Pauline Shelor’s house. It makes perfect sense to say we live in her house because no one knows us the way people know Shelors, who have lived in these mountains for more than two centuries. We’ve barely been here a moment, a scant dozen years.

Not only did Bob and his brother live side-by-side, their businesses were side-by-side on Locust Street in downtown Floyd. Upon his return after the Second World War, Bob opened Bob’s Radio and TV with one new television to sell. His training and service in the Navy while stationed in Norfolk prepared him well for his new venture. After enlisting, Bob became an electrician who repaired and refurbished battle-damaged aircraft such as Hellcat fighter planes.

Bob could fix anything, and Bob’s Radio and TV turned into a long career. Jim Casteel told me Bob was a genius. Jim would know; he worked alongside Bob for 42 years. Bob sold enough products for RCA that he earned trips with his wife to Italy and the Caribbean. And, as the newspaper said, “He was friends with all his customers.”

Despite mowing my lawn as an octogenarian and dispensing other kindnesses, Bob was convinced that he didn’t measure up as a neighbor. He was always saying so, and would often tell me that he had never helped us in any meaningful way.

“Can I do anything for you?” Bob would ask.

“No,” I would reply. “But thanks—I appreciate it.”

He never seemed satisfied with my answer.

Actually, Bob was the best neighbor any person could hope for. When our family moved to Floyd in 2003, I selfishly thought, “I hope he lives next door forever,” despite his health challenges and advancing years.

Bob knew more about my house—the plumbing, electrical, everything—than I probably ever will. He also knew everything about Floyd County dating back to his childhood before the war. Bob would entertain me with stories when I joined him in the small den at the back of his house. Sometimes his memory failed him, but what he remembered was interesting and usually included a colorful anecdote or two.

I also wanted Bob to live next door forever because he was the kind of neighbor who brought my daughters ice cream when they were sick or dropped by with stuffed animals for no reason whatsoever. One day when my daughter Beth passed by on the way home from elementary school, he slipped her a few dollars for getting good grades on her report card.

The last time I saw Bob was at the Christmas parade in 2005. It was two days before he died in his den, sitting in his favorite chair, watching television. He had walked the parade route with fellow members of the American Legion. He didn’t notice my daughter Caroline and me standing on the opposite corner of East Main Street and Barberry Road. I wish I had crossed the street and said hello.

“I knew him for a long time to be one of the friendliest and most honest men around,” said veteran Connie Wood in the newspaper. “He went out of his way to help a lot of people in Floyd County.”

We miss our good neighbor.


My March Writer’s Retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast

AmbrosiaSign_06There are still a few spots available for my upcoming writer’s retreat at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast in Floyd, Virginia. It begins on Friday evening, March 7 and runs through Sunday morning, March 9. The cost is $120 plus lodging.

Here’s the fancy-pants description:

“Writing and Publishing Your Nonfiction Book”

Author and blogger Neil Sagebiel of Floyd, Virginia, will lead a writer’s retreat on nonfiction book writing and publishing. Neil will cover topics such as story development and research, the book proposal, the writing process, literary agents, publishers, working with editors, and related areas. Participants can discuss and work on a current project and/or simply bring their ideas and questions.

(Once all participants are identified, Neil will email questions related to their background and interests and work to tailor the time accordingly. This retreat will include time to work on a current project and/or other fun writing exercises.)

Neil is the author of THE LONGEST SHOT: Jack Fleck, Ben Hogan, and Pro Golf’s Greatest Upset at the 1955 U.S. Open, which was published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. THE LONGEST SHOT was named one of the Top 10 Sports Books of 2012 by Booklist and was also praised by the New York Times. His second book will publish in September 2014.

Neil is also a freelance writer and the founder and editor of ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG. Contact him at neilsagebiel@gmail.com.

Author Wendell Berry Visits Floyd

Wendell Berry.

Like other small towns, Floyd, Virginia, is a quiet, unassuming place. And yet, more often than one might expect, well-known people visit this one-stoplight town, whether musicians, politicians, authors, or others.

A few years ago bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver came to town because a lady connected to our local library wrote a letter to the famous novelist. Kingsolver, as I understand it, isn’t keen on public appearances and book tours. But she came to Floyd and spoke in the high-school auditorium.

Today, Wendell Berry arrives in Floyd.

Berry is a distinguished author and writer of more than 50 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is a farmer and activist whose writings and life have focused on community, conservation and a simple, slower lifestyle. The 79-year-old Kentuckian has won many awards (T.S. Eliot Award, Thomas Merton Award, National Humanities Medal to name a few). Most recently, Berry was the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award.

In the Floyd Press, Colleen Redman reported:

[Wendell Berry] will conduct a book signing at the Floyd EcoVillage on Friday, November 22 at 4:00 p.m. Berry will speak at the Floyd County High School auditorium at 7:00 p.m. and will participate in a panel of national experts on the topic of forests and community. A moderated question and answer period is also scheduled.

Berry will travel to Yale University for a speaking event shortly after Thanksgiving, but first he is spending time in Floyd with common folk.

Long-Awaited Bridge Opens Near Floyd

I drove across the new bridge this morning. Part of U.S. 221, it crosses Pine Creek about three miles northeast of Floyd. The new bridge is 46 feet across, nearly doubling the former width. It took more than a year to build.

I first heard it was completed on Facebook. Then I read about it in this week’s Floyd Press. (There was a large photo of the bridge on the front page.)

A friend on Facebook commented: “Citizens of Floyd County applaud the completion of the bridge at U.S. 221 and Shooting Creek Road. This project was completed in record time; they set a record for the longest time it has ever taken to build a two-lane bridge! We thank BOTH workers who labored to build it for us!”

Just about everything is slower in Floyd. We have slow food, slow talk, slow construction. And that’s OK, mostly.

Loitering Allowed

I saw a new sign the other day at the Floyd Country Store: “Loitering Allowed.”

What a great sign and good business reminder. It lets customers and browsers and time-killers know that they’re welcome. Come on in. Look around. Hang out. We’re not worried about whether you buy anything or not. You’re welcome here.

In fact, the sign could just as easily say: Loiterers Welcome.

It got me thinking about businesses besides retail businesses, whether mega companies or small outfits. Are they—am I—transmitting a service-oriented attitude, a willingness to give clients, customers and prospects as much time as they need or want?

I think it’s important to let people loiter. Some will take advantage of it in a negative way, but most will not. It’s good for business. You may want to loiter with them. It can build better relationships.