Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Must Be Billy

It wasn’t long after we bought our house in upstate NY that we met our new neighbor. He came down the driveway in a beat-up truck, screaming something unintelligible at the top of his lungs. Lou and I didn’t know what the hell was going on, so we left off stacking firewood to go see who was being murdered.

The blue truck stopped at our barn, and the man inside flailed his arms and yelled at us as we approached. After taking a moment to get my bearings, I realized the man was simply saying hello and introducing himself. With no change in volume, even though we were only several feet apart, he told us, in a heavy accent, that he was know as The Greek, and he owned the place next door. He apologized for not coming over sooner, and by way of explanation, opened the truck door and waved his prosthetic leg at us. He’d been in the hospital getting his lower leg amputated due to diabetes and had just come back home recently. Although there was a bit of a language barrier, I tried my best to decipher and translate this to Lou, who was completely lost and did quite a bit of smiling and nodding; it’s hard to know what to do when a stranger is waving their prosthesis at you and yelling.

The Greek told us about the elderly couple who used to own our house and what a “son of a bitch” their son was. We’d been having some trouble with the son, so he wasn’t telling us anything we didn’t already know. We talked about the trouble and The Greek told us to give the son a message if we saw him: “Tell him if he comes here, that I, The Greek, have him in my scope.” With emotions ranging from gratitude to anxiety, we thanked him, and hoped we wouldn’t do or say anything to get ourselves in his scope.

We talked and smiled and nodded for another twenty minutes or so, and then The Greek rumbled back up the driveway still yelling and waving his arms. Lou and I looked at each other, not really sure what just happened, and then compared notes as to whether or not we thought The Greek approved of us.

It turns out that he did approve of us, and as intimidating as our conversations could be at times, we always stopped to talk, or wave, or help him out if we could. He was a wealth of knowledge about our new home, and we enjoyed the gossip about past neighbors. The Greek’s volume knob was stuck on 10, but we got used to it after awhile, although the first time he had company, we thought he was being attacked and rushed up there to make sure he was okay. Come to find out his brother’s volume knob is also stuck. It was from this encounter that we found out The Greek’s real name was Billy, but he always referred to himself as The Greek. He called the other people in the neighborhood “The Russian” and “The Polish”, so I guess that’s just his thing. We often laughed and wondered what nationality he called us by, as the last name Alexander is somewhat ambiguous.

Billy’s house has no electricity and is heated with wood. Lou and I would hear his generator fire up and wonder how he survived our freezing winters, especially with his diminished health. We mentioned the electricity once and were treated to a fifteen minute tirade about the electric company. We never mentioned it again.

Lou and I were told we were welcome to walk on his property and we could tell from our walks that The Greek had led a very active life; outbuildings, hunting blinds, vehicles of every description, many unfinished projects, and an old apple orchard are scattered over his 17 acres. The Greek went from a life of hunting on his property to a life of admiring the wildlife from his window. I remember the smile on his face as he described a mother fox and her kits who had taken up residency in his yard, and the wistful look as he told me how he just enjoys watching them now.

I received a phone call from Billy’s brother today letting me know The Greek has passed away. Billy had been in the hospital for the last year with health problems and we’ve been watching his place and collecting the mail for him. We knew the odds were against his coming home again do to the severity of his illnesses, but I thought if anyone could beat the odds, it would be The Greek.

I’ll miss our neighbor and his rumbling truck and flailing arms, and I know our lives will be less colorful for our loss.

And for the record, I wouldn’t mind being in The Greek’s scope now if it meant he’s looking down on us and    nodding with approval. 

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