The other day my wife called me and said I better go check on Denny. Denny is our neighbor, and a good one he is. He and his wife Linda are our chief chicken babysitters. We repay them in more eggs than they can use. Once Denny collected one of the wooden eggs we use to train the layers and foil the shell-peckers. Not recognizing it for what it was, Denny took it home and when it rolled off the countertop he lunged to catch it, then stood wide-eyed as it smacked the floor and didn’t crack.

Ours is a lopsided relationship. Denny and Linda help us way more than we help them. They also feed our cats. And Denny is our informal security guard. He notices cars that don’t belong. He catches trespassers and dead-end trash dumpers. When the garbage truck kept skipping our recycling stop up atop the hill, Denny let us put our bins down there on the main road by his mailbox. Once when I cleared a batch of steel posts from our garden by inadvertently peeling them out of the ground with our rear-mounted tractor tiller, Denny cut the twisted rebar out of the tiller tines with his cutting torch, chuckling the whole while. He also laughed that time I had to get him to come up to tow my minivan after I got it stuck in the woods while ferrying supplies to a deer blind.

I was at work in my office above the garage when my wife called. “I think you better come down here and check on Denny,” she said. “His four-wheeler is parked oddly at the side of the road but I don’t see him and he doesn’t answer when I call.” Denny’s got a spot half-way up our hill where he backs his trailer to the edge of an embankment and dumps limbs and leaves and lawn clippings. When I got there his four-wheeler was at right angles to the road, backed so far off it his trailer was half-dangling over the edge. With trepidation I eased up to the four-wheeler and peeked over. As a first responder I’ve gone looking for people in these situations before, and more than once have found a body. Peeking around for that sort of thing is kinda like blowing up a balloon, not knowing when it will pop. I called Denny’s name a couple of times. No answer.

I drove down the hill and hung a right into Denny’s place. He came out of his shop, grinning shamefacedly and shaking his head. “I told Linda if I didn’t get that thing outta there, someone would come huntin’ me!” he said. He explained that he had somehow jammed the shift lever of the four-wheeler so it would only go in reverse, and in trying to rock it loose he just kept backing up until he was trapped with the hind end hanging over the drop-off. Just to keep things square, I laughed at him.

But in truth I was deeply relieved. Denny and I aren’t buddies. Our families don’t hang out or party or socialize together. We mostly just honk and wave. But he and Linda are always there if we need something. The loveliness of this sort of neighborliness is even sweeter because it doesn’t depend on much else beyond garden-variety civility. After I helped Denny tow the four-wheeler back down the hill and into his shop we went our separate ways for the rest of the day, but as I settled back into my work up the hill it was good to know he was OK down there. A neighbor, neighborly as need be.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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