39: Out of the Blue, a Family

39: Out of the Blue, a Family

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness

Out of the Blue, a Family

Friends are family you choose for yourself.

~Author Unknown

As a long-time police volunteer for the Pleasanton, California, police department near San Francisco, I got to know many of the police officers and support staff. I would often chat with Ryan, a school resource officer, at the end of his workday after he returned from one of the schools in town he was responsible for. One evening he mentioned that his rental home had become infected with black mold caused by a roof leak. Despite his repeated requests, his landlord had done nothing to remediate the mold situation.

As a result, Ryan was forced to break his lease and vacate, sending his wife Brenda and their three children to live temporarily with her parents in Idaho. He bunked at a fellow officer’s home for a few weeks while he searched for a new place for himself and his family, feeling increasingly guilty over appropriating the bed of one of the officer’s children.

“Well, come and stay with me,” I suggested. “I live only two miles from the police station and I have a spare bedroom and private bathroom you can use.”

“It could be a long time,” he warned.

“I know, but it’s just sitting there empty now, so what’s the difference? You’re welcome to stay as long as you need to.”

Then the delicate question: “How much would you charge me?”

I just smiled and said, “Charge? I couldn’t charge you! You have a need and I can fill that need. If it makes you feel better, you can help me with chores around the house. All the rent money you save can be applied toward a down payment on a home when you find one.”

Ryan moved in a few days later and ended up staying for almost six months. He made his bed every day, straightened up his bathroom before leaving for work, and did his own laundry, grocery shopping and meal preparation. Early each morning, he moved through the house like a ninja, never once disturbing my sleep. He took out the garbage for me and helped with yard work, forbidding me to climb a ladder as long as he lived there. With the help of a sergeant friend, he even cut down an unwanted tree in my yard. He was the perfect houseguest. One day I remarked, “So, who do I send the roses to — your wife or your mother?”

Even though he was the first roommate I had ever had, we seamlessly adjusted to one another’s routines and preferences, even enjoying the same TV programs. We shared similar opinions on every topic and our conversations sometimes went on until almost midnight.

He had introduced me to his wife via Facebook that first night, and she and I soon became online friends. He visited the family in Idaho a few times, with me driving him to the airport and picking him up upon his return. Although I had lived alone my entire adult life, suddenly the house felt empty during his absence.

A few months in, we got a big surprise — Ryan was named Officer of the Year by the police department. The recognition came with a gala dinner honoring him and other first responders in the county. The mayor presented him with an engraved plaque, extolling his accomplishments during the year. What a special honor that was for him! Ryan invited me to the event as it was impractical for his wife and children to fly down just for the evening.

That was in April. Mother’s Day rolled around soon after, and Ryan gave me a Mother’s Day card and took me out to dinner. In June I returned the kindness on Father’s Day. In July, he returned to Idaho to gather his family and bring them back to the beautiful new home he had found.

Over a year has gone by since I offered my spare room, and with each passing month I feel closer to my new “blue” family. The children nicknamed me “GrAnnette,” short for Grandma Annette. Given the distance that both grandmothers live from them (Idaho and Southern California), I guess I am a third grandma to them. The boys, ages eight and ten, run out to my car to greet me with hugs when I pull into their driveway. Their little two-year-old daughter squeals with glee when told I’m coming to visit. (“I’m so ‘essited’ to see my GrAnnette!” she says.) I’ve spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with them, and birthdays and family parties, too, where I met both sets of grandparents. In fact, Ryan’s mother and I e-mail each other frequently. I’ve picked up the kids from school to free Brenda to attend to household chores, and she and I go on bargain-hunting trips together from time to time.

Ryan’s four-year assignment as a school resource officer has ended and he is back to working the streets as a patrol officer. Sometimes he gets “held over” for a significant amount of time after his normal shift ends to complete an involved arrest booking or to assist another officer. Other times he has to appear in court to testify the morning after coming off the graveyard shift. Then, he stays over at my house rather than making the long drive home only to have to return to duty a few hours later.

Who knew that such a simple act as offering someone a place to stay would repay me so richly with a brand-new “family”? Over dinner recently, we reminisced about our former roommate relationship. Ryan asked if the neighbors had ever commented about his living with me, since they would see him come and go regularly. I merely smiled, saying, “I just told them I’ve become such a famous author (two published books and several stories in anthologies, including three in Chicken Soup for the Soul books) that I was forced to employ a full-time armed bodyguard.”

~Annette Langer

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