Neighbors and friends are sometimes taken for granted. They shouldn’t be. A good neighbor or a good friend is one of life’s treasures.
When someone is both a good neighbor and a good friend, that’s a treasure of immeasurable worth, so much so that I decided to write about a person who has been both a good neighbor and a good friend to me, Art Flores.
We were neighbors for almost 20 years before I moved, and we have continued to stay friends to this day. I came to know Art when he and his wife Violet moved into a house next door to mine in 2002. In fact, my wife Sandy and I moved into our home about the same time as Art and Violet moved into theirs.
You never know about neighbors. Sometimes they’re OK. Sometimes they are a nuisance. And sometimes they’re great. I was lucky to have lived next to great neighbors before, when I lived next to Mary and Butch Woltman. I was hoping to have the same luck with Art and Violet.
It didn’t take long to realize I had struck it rich with this couple. They were friendly, kind and helpful. Art, Violet, Sandy and I felt like one extended family.
As neighbors, we got along so well. When our mutual fence was blown down by a windstorm, Art easily agreed to split the cost of a new fence. When we decided that the piece of grass on our mutual front lawn wasn’t looking good, we both agreed to dig up the grass and spread the crushed granite that we ordered dumped on the spot.
Art and I were the traditional neighbors that Norman Rockwell painted decades ago, two guys who could talk over or through an adjoining fence.
We both helped each other out. Actually, Art helped me more than I helped him, like the time I borrowed his truck to take a bunch of junk to one of Los Banos’s quarterly clean-up days. And when I didn’t have the right tool to fix something, Art was always willing to lend me one of his.
Art has a great sense of humor, so it was easy to share laughs with him. But we could also share tears, as we did when Violet passed away in 2018. Violet had such a great smile, such a warm personality, it was hard to believe she was gone. It left holes in both Art’s life and my life, a great big hole in Art’s.
But he was resilient. After a long period of grieving, Art was able to put one foot in front of the other and go forward. And after I moved more than a mile away, it was still natural for us to keep in contact and keep our friendship alive and thriving.
For me, being with Art is as natural as breathing. We share a lot in common. We both enjoy sports and are avid fans, although for different teams. He’s a Raiders fan; I’m a Bears fan. He likes the Dodgers; I like the Cubs.
As football fans we’ve basically exemplified “misery loves company,” as the Raiders and Bears continually crushed our spirits.
As baseball fans, we rejoiced in each other’s victories. Art smiled when I flew the “W” flag outside my home when the Cubs won the World Series in 2016. I applauded the Dodgers when they won it all in 2020.
We both laugh at the same jokes and at the craziness of life in general and the frequent craziness in our own lives. That’s a special bonus to a friendship, when two guys can laugh so easily and so often.
We do come from different backgrounds. Arturo is Mexican-American. I’m Czech-American. But we have found that we enjoy sharing each other’s cultures, especially in food. I enjoy a good homemade enchilada. Art likes the dumplings that my sister Joan makes.
We even created a nickname for ourselves, a take-off on a popular snack. We call ourselves “Czech Mex,” and for our logo we have side-by-side photos of Cheech (of Cheech and Chong) and Steve Martin (as one of the “Wild and Crazy Czech Guys” from Saturday Night Live).
Art and I are both in our 70s, and we have a lot of memories we’ve shared over the years, memories of the old days and memories of last week. We both realize we’re not as young as we used to be.
Lately, Art has been hit with some medical challenges. He doesn’t get around as quickly as he used to, which has given me pause to reflect on our friendship.
I am so darn grateful I’ve had Art as a neighbor and friend. He has been such a blessing to both Sandy and me, and to my sister Joan. We all thank the good Lord each night for bringing Art into our lives.
And so, dear reader, I encourage you to reflect on good neighbors and good friends and the blessings they’ve been to you. And if you are lucky enough to have someone who is both a good neighbor and good friend, as I have in Art Flores, thank your lucky stars.