Feb 10, 2012

Losing a Neighbor and Writing

Last summer, I awoke at 3:00am to a startling scene; red and blue flashing lights of fire trucks and cop cars all up and done my street.  My husband and I, plus our two oldest boys hesitantly walked down the street and were horrified to realize my neighbor’s house was on fire. 
I found out the next day my neighbor, Kirby Allen had passed away in the house.
This tragedy really hit home because even though I was friends with my neighbor and I’d wave to him when he drove by, I didn’t even know his first name until he died.  What type of neighbor was I, to not ever introduced myself?  If only I’d reached out more?  And for not even knowing Kirby Allen all that well, I missed him. I worried that he suffered and had been scared.  I realized I loved Kirby Allen.  Every time I drove by his collapsed home, my eyes would tear up. 
The incident was all over the news.  I read about his life in the newspaper later that week.  His life was amazing and full of accomplishments.  He was eclectic and an artist and passionate.  He was someone I would have loved to hang out with, learn from his life and enjoy what he had to share.  But, I couldn’t do that anymore. Kirby was gone.  Like most of life’s issues, I turned to writing to help me cope with the sorrow of this tragedy. 
I wrote about Kirby Allen on my blog here.  The response was overwhelming. Not only did I hear from his grown children, but I received emails from extended family from all over the country.  I received calls from church members and neighbors.  A friend of mine suggested I submit the article to the Arizona Republic newspaper for publication and it was published the day of Kirby’s funeral. 
Below is the press release I submitted, in the format I found most professional.  I’m grateful something I felt in my heart was able to bring comfort to those who knew and loved Kirby Allen.  


Mesa, AZ, June 23, 2011 -- You’ve been my neighbor since I was 14 years old. 
How is it I never knew you?
You lived across the street from my parents with your collection of chickens and ducks and exotic cars in the driveway. My little brother called you “Chicken man” and he did his best to keep his dog off your property.  You wore your personality on the outside of your house with many patriotic emblems, including a ten-foot Statue of Liberty in your front yard.
After I married, I moved back into the neighborhood in a house my husband and I could afford. Trick or treating on Halloween, your house was aglow with white ghosts and orange pumpkins.  My husband and I lured our scared kids up your side walk.  You coaxed them to touch the plastic bats hanging from your porch.  You had candy, a friendly smile and chickens.  From that day forward, my kids called you “Chicken Man” too. 
Occasionally, I’d see you drive down the street in your white pick-up and you’d stop to talk about weather and irrigation schedules. Eventually, your ducks had babies that burrowed in patches of desert rose you’d planted, creating a storybook scene in our Mesa neighborhood. 
Another year, another Halloween and an excuse to walk up your sidewalk, past the Statue of Liberty, past your upside down American flag, inside terraces of bougainvillea and back into your world, but of course, I didn’t even know your name.
I woke up Thursday June 16th at 3:00am to a street carnival of red and blue flashing lights.  It was eerily quiet when I saw your house engulfed in fire.  Flames almost 20-feet high tinged the tops of your palm trees.  Never had I seen such force, never had I seen firefighters at work.  It was a strange sort of suffering.
At 4:30am, my family and I walked home, back to our beds.  I wasn’t until morning I found out you had died in the house fire.
And I cried.
I cried, hoping with all my might you hadn’t suffered, but I guess that’s naive.  To think death took you in such a frightening way makes me sad and angry
I read in the newspaper you name was Kirby Allan.  You were a famous musician, a WWII veteran and ran for Mayor of Mesa 9 times.  You lived an amazing life.
I wish I would’ve known you Kirby Allan. I wish I would’ve reached out.
The fire fighters took down your flag, folding it into a triangle.  Your Statue of Liberty stands unharmed and your bougainvillea reach toward heaven.  Chickens run in your backyard, hiding in their roosts under your antique wood wagon wheels and piles of limber. 
Your three grown children are taking care of things, looking through stuff, trying to make sense of your blessed life that ended in a tragic accident.
I miss you Kirby Allan.  Take care of the desert roses in heaven and know that you are loved, even by a neighbor who barely knew you.


  1. May be if nothing else his death can serve a purpose. I'm going out and getting to know my neighbors. I know none of them. It sounds like he was a great guy. I'm sorry he's gone too.

  2. You have provided the push I've needed. The house across the street has had so many different tenants during the years it's been a rental that I've pretty much given up on getting to know them. Terrible excuse, I know.


Thank you for visiting. Feel free to comment on our blogger's posts.*

*We do not allow commercial links, however. If that's not clear, we mean "don't spam us with a link to your totally unrelated-to-writing site." We delete those comments.