Out of Context

As I do most days (Sundays being a notable exception for obvious reasons), I checked my mailbox yesterday to see if anything was in it. Since I live in a neighborhood with “bulk delivery,” my box is about a hundred yards down the street. Normally, I walk out my front door, down my sidewalk and the thirty-foot-long driveway, down the “real” sidewalk, and then cross the street to the mailboxes. After retrieving my mail (if there *is* any), I retrace my steps and return to my cave – er, house.

Yesterday’s sojourn started out as usual, but as I walked down my sidewalk to get to the driveway, I noticed a car in the street. It was stopped more-or-less in front of my house, but it was also more-or-less in front of my neighbor’s house, too – and it was stopped *directly* in front of his trash barrel, which was against the curb in the street. This meant that the unknown car was stopped about three feet away from the curb, which I thought was mildly strange. Why wouldn’t the driver choose one side or the other of the barrel, and park closer to the curb? AHA! He must be waiting for someone! Since no one I knew should be waiting for me, I deduced that he was waiting for my neighbor. (Also a bit strange, because that almost *never* happens, but it’s not unheard-of.)

The engine was running, and the driver had the windows down and the sunroof open, so as I passed I did the neighborly thing and said, “Hi!” I promptly got “Hi!” back, and I continued down to the mailboxes. I do this with most people I see on my street. I greet the ones I know, obviously, but I also greet the ones I don’t know because I live in a Neighborhood Watch area and I want people to know that I noticed them (and therefore might remember them if something happens).

On my way back from the mailboxes, I saw the car still there. It hadn’t been moved to a spot where it could be parked closer to the curb, so I assumed the driver was still waiting for my neighbor. Having done my neighborly thing, I walked past the car, up my driveway, and to my front door. I didn’t see any point in talking to this person any further, because obviously he wasn’t there on my account.

As I opened my front door, I happened to catch some motion from the corner of my eye. I turned and saw the man coming up my driveway. Being neighborly again, I turned and asked, “May I help you?”

At this point, he’s about twenty feet away from me. He took off his ball cap – and danged if it wasn’t my big brother!

So, of course, I invited him in and we had a great visit.

You may be wondering why I didn’t recognize my own brother. After all, I’m 64 (well, that *could* be the reason, but it’s not – at least, not yet!) and he’s 71, so we’ve known each other for a while. Well, here’s where the out-of-context part comes into play.

Big Bro lives in New Hampshire, and only comes to Tucson on rare occasions, almost all of which involve visiting his daughter / my niece (she’s stationed at Davis-Monthan, as is her husband). Further, he, Sis-in-Law, and Nephew had just been here over Christmas, and they *never* visit twice this close together! Third, when Big Bro *does* come to town, he calls to invite me to breakfast / lunch / drinks, or he lets me know ahead of time and we set things up before he even gets here.

So when he comes walking up my driveway, totally unannounced, just 60 days after he was here last, why on earth *would* I recognize him?

I felt foolish that I hadn’t, of course, and he asked me what I had thought about the car with the New Hampshire plates when I walked by. I told him I never even saw the plates. In the first place, I was still wearing my “computer glasses,” which are slightly nearsighted in the real world, so I literally didn’t see the plate clearly enough to realize it was NH. Second, I wasn’t focusing on that. I saw an out-of-place car and person in the neighborhood, and I was focusing on letting said person know that I had seen him, so he shouldn’t try anything.

That, of course, raises the question of why I didn’t recognize him when we said “Hi” to each other.

I never saw his face clearly while he was in the car. It was mostly obscured by the roof, and additionally obscured by his hat, and “Hi” isn’t enough to override the “stranger danger” mindset and trigger the voice-recognition abilities I still retain (if any). I also wasn’t really looking at him; I just said “Hi!” as I walked past.

[Note: As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that I *should* pay more attention to the faces, clothing, and speech patterns of unfamiliar people in the neighborhood, as well as any unfamiliar vehicles, so that if something *does* happen, I can say more than, “I saw a man in a dark-colored car parked in front of my house that day.”]

But the fact remains that I didn’t recognize my own (and only) brother until he walked up my sidewalk and took off his hat. He was out of context.


Oh, and if you’re wondering why Big Bro was in town, well, he had been invited to an event put on by a longtime friend of his (they met in Vietnam in 1968 or thereabouts). He hadn’t thought he’d be able to attend, but the stars lined up just right for once, so he flew out for the event and decided to surprise me while he was here. I have to say that the surprise part definitely worked!

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