Last week, there were 2 Portland police cars, a Guardian ambulance, and a fire truck parked in front of my house. I didn’t see a fire and wondered which of our older neighbors was sick. Mostly, I choked back a rising sense of deja vu since the same arrangement of emergency responders parked in front of the house 5 years before when Jack was dying.
Not wanting to get in the EMT team’s way, I got in my car and drove away thinking, “I’ll call Mark and find out what happened.” A few hours later Whitney, Mark’s stepdaughter, called to tell me Mark had suffered a massive heart attack and was dead.
Mark lived across the street with his wife, Jeannette; he was curious as a cat. There was little that happened on Crosby Street that Mark didn’t see. He’d early retired and supplemented his income by doing home repairs and renovations. And making sure that the street stayed secure.
He was the first person I met when we were working on my little house so it would pass the loan company’s inspection. The previous owner had been a cat lady. And a dog lady. Dog and cat fur covered the house, it smelled like a litter box, and had last been renovated in the mid-80’s. It looked like that was also the last time it was cleaned, too.
GE, Jack, Claire, and I brought in borrowed and bought loads of tools and supplies to strip wallpaper off the living room walls, repaint, and sanitize the house. “Howdy, neighbors!” Mark called through one of the open windows. After watching our feeble attempts at foil wallpaper removal, he excused himself and returned with his wife, Jeannette, and a bucket of tools. The two of them had just finished removing wallpaper and repainting walls at an Ingleside apartment complex. What they didn’t know about stripping wallpaper wasn’t worth knowing.
My hired workers were residents at the Good Sam Rescue Mission. The first day I lined them out; that evening I came home to see that they’d done something completely different. Seething because MY instructions weren’t followed , I approached them and asked through thin lips, “What happened? I thought I asked you to start painting.” (That fellow across the street said we needed to take off the rotten wood before we painted. He brought over this lumber, nails, and hammers.) When I asked Mark what I owed him, he said it was all scrap. Just bring back the tools and anything leftover.
Nobody on the street started a project without Mark walking across to check the work and offer suggestions. They were always good ones; Mark was quick to offer advice and tools. He remodelled several of our neighbors’ houses and knew construction materials used, plumbing and electrical weaknesses, and probable slab construction. When it came time to repaint my house, he agreed to do the work. It wasn’t the doing the work part that was a problem. It was convincing him that he needed to take money for it. Jeannette joked that Mark would do work for the neighbors for free to keep from finishing work at their home.
If Mark noticed a delivery left on the front porch, he’d pick it and text me that he had it at their house for safe keeping. (I’ve seen some weird looking people walking down the street and don’t want one of them to decide they want your package.) A few days before Bob and I got married, their granddaughter, Beetle, brought over a beautiful Christmas wreath that Jeannette made. The day before my family arrived for the wedding, I came home to a fresh mown lawn. (I figure you and Bob have too much to worry about. This is one thing I could help you with.)
The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. William Wordsworth
At the memorial service on Saturday, friends told their stories of how many times Mark had been the emergency locksmith, ladder carrier, tool loaner, repairman, and installer for our neighborhood. Jeannette said with a wistful smile, “Mark was a stubborn, feisty butt. And he wasn’t sarcastic. Noooo. Not Mark.” We all laughed. For all his goodness, Mark was human.
Mark started January 16 in the usual way, waking at 4 a.m. to finish a pot of coffee before making fresh. His last actions were to take Jeannette a cup, give her a good morning kiss, and tell her he loved her. It was a beautiful way to end a life and a sad way to be left behind.