That Guy Next Door

Back when my wife and I first met and we decided to merge our lives into a single home, she sold her Ballard place, I gave up my Bothell residence and we pooled our money to land a place on a private lane in North Seattle.

We love the street, the neighbors, over the years watching young families move in and having kids, getting together occasionally for the “National Night Out” in August and so on. But outside of a couple of organized gatherings, the bulk of our communication with the neighbors tends to be a quick banter in the street or by the mailbox and then we return to our busy lives.

On one side of our house is a guy named Carl, whose parents owned the place until they were gone and he took over. These days, he spends most of his time at his girlfriend’s house, but I have been in his home a couple of times and he has kept it very retro-true to the late 1950s when it was built. Shag carpet, the works.

On the north side of our house was a home not very well kept up, where a guy named Mervyn resided. I knew that from occasionally getting a piece of his mail. My first encounter with him was indirect. The phone rang, and it was one of the utilities asking if I knew my next-door neighbor, Mervyn. I mentioned that we had recently moved in when the woman on the other end of the phone said, “Well, he hasn’t paid his bill for several months and so we’re getting ready to shut off his service.” I told her thanks for the notice, I would try to reach him.

I wandered next door, planning to introduce myself as his new neighbor and to let him know about the call. I knocked and rang the doorbell and nothing. Did it again, waited a few minutes and then walked home. Now my mind is reeling. What if this guy had died in his home and that was the reason he wasn’t paying his bills? That’s a fine “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

So, I called up the Seattle Police non-emergency number, explained the situation and they said they would do a welfare check. Eventually they came, pounded on his door, he answered, they explained what was going on, and it turned out he was just fine. Just a bit of a recluse.

In the 15 years we’ve lived next door to him, I’ve maybe talked with him three times. We swapped phone numbers one time, just in case anything were to go wrong and he needed help. He never called. A couple of years ago, another neighbor who was checking on him didn’t get a response, called the police and they even broke the door down to get in. It turned out he was in his bedroom and didn’t hear the pounding.

Or so he said.

Apparently, on September 29th, Mervyn actually did pass away. We didn’t find out until this week. Draw your own conclusions.

But in reading neighbor’s emails and doing a little online sleuthing, I’ve managed to piece together this collection of facts.

He lived in the house his parents owned. They must have been original owners in our neighborhood.

I had heard when we first moved in that he was working up in Shoreline at Prosser Piano. It turns out, he was an English teacher up north in the Everett School district for 30 years, as well as a music teacher. As one of my neighbors commented, “Merv was quite a musician, player & teacher.”

He passed away shortly before his 86th birthday, living on a teacher’s pension, which explained the low-quality toupee he wore. The last time the police were called and had to break-in, they noticed that his roof had been leaking in the house. His carport was a collection of clutter and two vehicles–one he still drove from the 1970s, the other, I don’t think I ever saw it run.

He had a routine of letting his yard completely go, allowing weeds to soar above the fences. Then, come October, he’d hire some laborers and have them tear out everything down to the dirt. This process happened year after year.

Then was that light on the side of the house that hung there from the day we moved in.

He apparently didn’t have any family left, just a couple of friends who showed up to his home a couple of days ago, saying they were about as close as family to him as anyone.

Searching online, I found that he was a graduate of Ballard High School, class of 1954. Another click, and I see that his full name was Mervyn Dewey Vaught.

In his online obituary, there is nothing. Just his name, date of birth, and when he passed.

We all get to choose how we spend every moment of our lives on this earth. I can’t imagine spending the bulk of my life inside a home, just existing. But that was Mervyn’s choice. I hope he enjoyed some happiness along the way.

And now he’s gone. That guy next door.

Tim Hunter

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