Richard Cole was one of the first neighbors I met when we moved to northern Delaware County. An extremely outgoing man, he was probably in his seventies. His wide smile was missing a few teeth but, he told me, he just couldn't stand his dentures.
We talked about the town, the street, the people on it. He told me who liked each other, who didn't speak.
“A few of them don't talk to me,” he admitted. “A lot of people in town don't, actually.”
“Why is that?” I asked him.
He grinned. “I talk too much.”
And talk he did. He told me the history of local families, made tasteless jokes that he asked me to forgive because he was just “a guy who never learned when to shut up.” He told me about his life, his experiences in Vietnam, about how badly the VA mishandled his medical issues.
He told me the name of his favorite fuel company and why the one I am using was the worst of the worst. “Call my company. Tell them I sent you!”
He told me about the man who once owned my house, who, he said, took his own life out in the woods rather than deal with a lingering death from cancer.
After an hour, we finally got around to talking about firewood, which was the reason I sought him out in the first place. I explained that I wanted enough to get me through a long winter, and relied on him to tell me how much that would be.
He did, gave me what sounded like a fair price, and promised he'd get it up to our property within a month. He handed me a business card: Richard Cole, Trucker. In spidery handwriting he’d added, Retired.
The wood was delivered within days.
One thing about Dick Cole that I found especially endearing was his absolute fascination with trucks. He had lots of war stories about his time on the road. No matter how engrossing the conversation was, when a truck went by, Mr. Cole went quiet. It happened every single time. He was listening to the engine.
“That's a _____ (fill in the blank – I know nothing about trucks),” he'd observe. And then conversation would resume.
Mr. Cole was a man of wit and strong feelings. He loved his little house, I learned. He'd had to sell it after his divorce, and it broke his heart. He bought it back for a lot more money when it came back on the market a few years later.
“I always promised myself I'd get it back if I could,” he said.
The way he said it made me really happy he'd gotten his wish.
Mr. Cole loved an audience. He started stopping by just to chat.
The first time he stopped to visit, he pulled his pickup up the driveway and introduced me to his lady friend. He chatted for about half an hour, then backed down the driveway and knocked over a huge, heavy plastic pot of flowers. He waved an apology and drove off. I righted the seriously dented pot, moving it a bit more out of the way in preparation for the next visit.
He stopped by once in awhile, just to chat. He never got out of his truck, just sat there in the driveway and talked.
He was the kind of visitor you aren't entirely sure you're in the mood for, but he always brought a few good stories and left a laugh behind. The flower pot managed to avoid him.
Then he stopped showing up. It turned out he’d died in his sleep, sitting in his recliner in the house he loved.
It’s been four years now, but I still think of him every time a truck goes by. And that big, dented flower pot? It’s the Dick Cole Memorial Planter.