Mr. Engle

Down the block from where I live stood an old house: white frame with a screened porch with a lazy swing rocking in the breeze on those hot summer evenings. The door was painted a bright fire-engine red and the lamp was always on in window of the dimly lit study. That’s where Mr. Engle always sat. He was 90 years old and was the only person who ever lived in the house two doors down.
I felt sorry for him because he was alone so on hot, slow summer days, I would visit him. When I would walk over, he would invite me in his living room and he would tell me things about himself. He would say how his daughter had died of anorexia years before his friends even had a name for the disease. She withered away right before his eyes. His wife died of a broken heart not long after. His son moved away, far away. So he was alone and would sit and watch television, his only connection to the world, except when I would visit him.
He would love to tell me stories of how the neighborhood was years ago. He recalled how families had moved in with young children and then how the village trustees decided to build the grammar school just down the street. Then the playground. Together we saw young trees grow taller, the street re-paved, the old playground swings changed from metal to bright yellow plastic. He would love to watch the Cubs and we would talk about them as Jack Brickhouse called the plays on his small set in the background.
“I’m not sure I want them to win the World Series,” he would say as he looked through his wire-rimmed glasses. “I like things the way they are. I’m used to the Cubs losing and living with the hope that they will always be better next year.” He never lived to see them win the World Series again.
As the years passed, Mr. Engle drove less and less. Sometimes I would go over on my bike with groceries, other times just to check in and see how he was doing. Then one Sunday morning there was an ambulance and a fire truck in front of Mr. Engle’s house. A couple of days later, his son had flown in from Arizona to bury his father. Within days, a bold red and white “For Sale” sign boldly stood on the front lawn. I went through the house one last time during the estate sale and saw strangers buying the yellowed sofa I had sat on so many times in his living room. His valued trinkets were going for nickels and dimes. A builder razed the house and put up a new brick building. A nice young family moved in with a swing tied with two ropes to a sturdy branch on the tall oak tree in the front.
Since then, I have seen other homes, nice homes, knocked down and young families move into new ones. I see the times changing right before my eyes. Somehow people think that new is better. From Mr. Engle, I have found that getting rid of the old isn’t really the answer. We can learn from those ancient buildings and ancient people. When something dies, it can never be recovered, but at the same time, I have learned to move on. Time doesn’t wait for you to catch your breath. I miss Mr. Engle – his wisdom, his lame jokes, his tears, his hopes for the Cubs. The neighborhood will never be the same without him. And neither will I, but, no, Mr. Engle, he was not the one.