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Harris Blackwood: Missing the friendly neighbor as spring nears
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There are all sorts of things people point to as the sure signs of spring. I don’t know how reliable they are, but I’ll take them.

In Hinckley, Ohio — where I’ve never been — the buzzards come home to roost on March 15. I don’t know if Leap Year plays into that, but by mid-month, you’ll see some buzzards.

Locally, I saw jonquils in full bloom last week. It is one those sure signs we will soon escape the bonds of winter.

Rufus Dean was my neighbor for nearly 13 years. He died last week at the age of 92. He was a good fellow and a really good neighbor.

Rufus was a smoker. His wife, Edwina, did not allow him to smoke in the house. So Rufus retreated to the porch.

Smoking is a bad habit, but as I pointed out, Rufus made it to 92. The last time I saw him, I told him he didn’t look a day older than 91.

“Thanks,” he said with a hint of sarcasm.

In the winter, Rufus bundled up and went outside for his smoke break. As the weather improved, his time spent on the porch increased.

When I pulled in or out of the driveway, I always looked to see if he was outside. We always exchanged a friendly wave. Sometimes, I let down the car window and said hello.

Now, Rufus was a friend and I enjoyed our conversations. I only know others from a daily wave or hello. I think that’s OK.

At work, I always see one particular guy on the elevator. He has an accent from somewhere, but we always say hello.

I also see several grouches. I am assuming they are grouches because they never speak. I guess you can chalk that up to having a bad day.

One woman at work has had about 500 straight bad days. She ignores my attempts at friendliness like the plague.

I have traveled in some major cities and I think people who live there have developed an aversion to making any kind of human contact with a stranger. They don’t even make eye contact.

I guess there is an element of fear. I often go back to my hotel room and look at myself in the mirror. I don’t think I look like an axe murderer.

I can be a little standoffish in places such as the airport. I always find it interesting how they will check me twice going through security, while some guy who looks like someone you saw on “America’s Most Wanted” breezes right through.

I miss the days when men used to dust their fingers through a young boy’s hair and say some form of “Howdy.” People these days grab their kids away from you as if you look like a troublemaker.

Spring will be here in a few weeks. The buzzards will come to Hinckley and the azaleas and jonquils and other spring flowers will bloom.

Across the driveway, up on the porch next door, there will be an empty place. That friendly wave of a neighbor was a sure sign of spring.

I’m sure going to miss it.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on

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