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Our neighbour Sam

  • 04 August 2020
Our neighbor Sam is in his mid-seventies. He takes things quietly, enjoys a chat where our two gardens converge at a corner of the lambing paddock that unfolds beyond our shared wire fence and, regularly in summer, Sam is partial to a few cooling drinks. He is diabetic so he chooses his tipple very carefully and in line with such professional medical advice as he’s prepared to follow — which is not all of it. Still, he is very active, regularly mows his own considerable expanse of lawn, keeps an attractive, Australian garden and maintains a knowledgeable survey of the multitudinous bird life in our piece of the valley.

Sam did not receive much more than the mandatory slice of early education and entered the work force as an apprentice butcher. Though successful, he moved on to the more gruelling but also at that time more lucrative truck driving. Meanwhile, however, he fell in love with a Dutch girl and after their marriage they moved to Amsterdam. In ensuing years, Sam mastered the language, broadened his skills from butchering and trucks to building and meanwhile the family took shape with the addition of two sons and a daughter.

Sam was fascinated by the ambience of Amsterdam and especially the Rijksmuseum which he visited as often as his day-to-day busy life would allow. There were names he’d heard of — Rembrandt, Vermeer — and others he hadn’t come across before — Franz Hals, Jan Brueghel, Ferdinand Bol. As he recalled those times in his slightly self-deprecating, measured way, yarning about great art over our Australian post-and-plain-wire fence, Sam would often admit to having felt in those years an excitement never again matched in his interesting life.

Back in Australia eventually, Sam and his wife encountered some hard times and the marriage faltered and finally broke down, though he remained in regular, amiable contact with the Ex, as he called her, and with his by then grown up family, routinely spending Christmas with them and visiting often.

With his health deteriorating, Sam was able to return to his old job as a butcher in a supermarket chain and, with the help of his daughter, he bought a small rural cottage on about half an acre on the edge of a beautiful, kilometres-long park-like paddock dotted with hundred-year old gums — the paddock which our garden fence also backed on to, and so we met.

Sam is an