Good fences make good neighbors, says the cranky man in the Frost poem.
But he was wrong, of course. Snowblowers make good neighbors.
Our record November has passed, along with the commotion that attends the first blast of every real winter – lousy driving, glorious sledding, sore shoveling shoulders, whiners debating skiers, and the minute, merciless analysis of the city’s snowplowing.
One benefit of difficult weather is a corresponding uptick in neighborliness. A lot of us need help, and a lot of us provide that help by shoveling a walk, pushing out a stuck driver, offering an arm for someone to cross a slick spot, applying the snowblower.
These acts are small but good – good for the person who does them as well as the one they’re done for. You know that feeling you get when you hear someone stuck on the road outside at night, spinning wildly in the slush, and you go out and spend 20 minutes getting them unstuck, and you go back in soaked and feeling good – possibly better than you deserve for this minor helpfulness – but good anyway because you don’t do much that you’d describe as neighborly?
Well, Todd Standish doesn’t. Because Todd Standish does that kind of stuff all the time. He thinks it’s normal.
“I think everybody does it in this neighborhood,” he said Wednesday, after snowblowing five driveways around his home on South Virginia Road in the Spokane Valley. “Everybody tries to help each other.”
Except everybody else points to Standish.
“They don’t come better than Todd,” said neighbor Karen Ray. “He’s just an amazing neighbor.”
Standish is by no means typical, but he is a type – the snowblowing neighbor. You hear people talking about this around here with some frequency, in one of two variations: 1) My neighbor cleared my driveway with his snowblower. 2) I cleared my neighbor’s driveway with my snowblower.
Small but good. And if you add it up, citywide, regionwide, not even small. The snowblowing neighbor – or the snow-shoveling neighbor, the jump-starting neighbor – is a seasonal phenomenon, and I can’t believe it doesn’t help stoke a dim but steady fire of goodwill in the community stove. Or at least help offset all the crankiness.
But Standish’s general neighborliness – which came to my attention through a colleague at the paper who is his neighbor and friend – is not a winter thing.
“It’s a 12-month thing, for sure,” Ray said.
He and his wife, Suzie, and son, Shawn, 14, provide help up and down the street all year long – even in glib, sunny summer.
Standish, who oversees the motor pool at Eastern Washington University, helps his neighbors with their lawns and yardwork. He keeps an eye on their flowers when they go on vacation, and helps fix their cars. The family gives neighbors rides into town, visits them when they’re sick. It sounds like they’ve got keys to half the houses in the neighborhood. The stories pile up like snowplow berms.
And when the snow flies, they’re out there, with blower and shovel.
“He’s everybody’s friend and he’s willing to help everybody with anything,” said Karen Nelson, who lives across the street. “He’s a man who sees things that need done before you realize yourself that they need done.”
Nelson, 68, lost her husband several years ago, and she says she relies on the Standish family in many ways. Todd hangs her Christmas lights every year. When his snowblower started failing recently, she made him a deal: She’d buy one if he’d keep doing her driveway.
But he’d have done it anyway.
Standish says he just lives in a giving, generous neighborhood. Everybody’s that way, he says. It’s a 1970s-era subdivision loop in the Valley between Pines and McDonald roads, with generally older residents. One called Standish, 44, the baby of the neighborhood.
He says he learned generosity from his mom and dad, Chris and George Brooks, while he was growing up in Cheney. His father, who passed away recently, worked for the Cheney water department for 30 years and was constantly helping others, he said. The city declared a George Brooks Day recently – Aug. 11.
“He helped everybody,” Standish said. “He could do everything – a very well-respected man.”
Good fences make good neighbors. That’s the line people remember, forgetting the rebuke: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down!” Winter is a proper reminder of that, for those of us who need it. For those who don’t, like Standish and his family, it’s just another opportunity.
Standish’s son, Shawn, is often out there with his dad, helping the neighbors. Ray tells a story of trying to pay the boy for yardwork he did a couple of summers back, and his father refusing it. He wanted to teach his son the value of extending a helping hand, she said.
“He’s just the next up-and-coming Todd,” she said.
On Wednesday, when I first called Standish, he’d just returned from a bout of snowblowing. Shawn Standish had been out in the snow, too.
“He was out shoveling the neighbors behind us – took a shovel out and did it,” his father said. “I didn’t tell him to.”
Maybe not in so many words.