This story taught me that sometimes apples fall very far from their trees indeed.
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In 2003 my brother’s family moved to our city. In what seemed like good fortune at the time, there was a house for rent just down the street from me. At that time rental properties were scarce, especially for large families (my brother has seven children), and prices were well above market value. The house was old and run down but it was almost big enough for all of them, and it was close to us, so they took it.
The people who owned it had a growing family of their own, and their intention was to save up enough money to do a thorough renovation and move in themselves in a few years. Thus, they saw little point in maintaining the house or fixing any problems. The hot water didn’t work properly, no one was cutting the grass and the back yard was a jungle (my brother was not going to invest in a lawn mower when who knew where he’d be living in a few years). Finally the pipes froze and burst one winter because the garage door would not close properly. The owners expected my brother to pay for the repair; they blamed him for not closing the door, when in fact he had brought the broken door to their attention several times, with no result.
An ugly legal battle ensued. I don’t even remember who paid in the end. In the interests of privacy, I won’t disclose the full consequences of this event. Suffice to say they were severe. Once my family was out, the owners evicted the older couple who had lived in the upper duplex for over twenty-five years, fixed the place up like a palace, and moved in. Every time I walked by I hoped they would never a know a moment’s peace in there, and never spoke a word to them when we met.
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A few years after this, we acquired Our Best Friend. As I have stated previously, this brought every animal-loving child in the neighbourhood out of the woodwork and to my front door. Most were children of friends. Then one day, the doorbell rang and who should be there but Tom, the son of the former landlords, with two of his sisters. I just stood there speechless.
“Can we play with your dog?” he asked shyly.
My first instinct was to say no and shut the door firmly in his face, with a very threatening glare. Then I looked at him. His eyes were pleading. His whole demeanour radiated eagerness. And the kid was only ten. It wasn’t his fault who his parents are.
“Sure,” I said.
He and his sisters went in the back and spent a good half an hour throwing a ball for Our Best Friend. They all had a terrific time, and thanked me very politely when they left.
After that, Tom was a frequent visitor to our house. His sisters found Our Best Friend too big and scary, but Tom loved to come and throw balls for OBF to chase up the back yard hill. If we ran into Tom on the street, OBF would jump on him– and OBF doesn’t jump on anyone.
That was over three years ago. My nickname for Tom is Our Best Friend’s Best Friend. When I went away in June, Tom came over and walked OBF every day, as The Oldest refused and I was afraid to let the The Middle Child walk him alone (he can pull me off my feet). Tom’s even been to the dog park with us. And he’s considerate, sweet, and unfailingly polite; in other words, absolutely nothing like his selfish, hostile, and aggressive parents.
Out of consideration for Tom, I am now civil to his mother when we run into each other. And the punch line? She thinks we’re friends. In fact, she recently invited me and the girls to her home for a Saturday lunch. I declined, blaming my children, explaining that they are only willing to go where they know the people really well. She accepted the excuse. When I told my brother about the invitation, he exploded in laughter, then said, “Ask her if I can come too.”
I’m never going to like Tom’s parents, and I’m never going to forgive them the damage they did to my brother and his family. But I’m always going to love Tom. He’s a good kid– and proof that even the worst tree can bear good fruit.