Just when my wife was in desperate need of a hospital emergency room, a huge red oak fell and blocked our driveway.
Less than 30 minutes later, three neighbors showed up with two chain saws. In 15 minutes, they cleared the blockage. I took my wife to the hospital.
Our homeowners association didn’t send those rescuers. But because of that association, the members had many times before worked together. They knew each other, and they knew us. I realize there are “HOAs from hell,” as proved in a recent Kansas City Star series; ours is not an HOA from hell.
Not being a real-estate promoter, I won’t tell you who we are. We are a tiny governmental unit with 130 households, some old folks like me and more young families with kids, located about 12 miles from the Country Club Plaza.
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We’ve been around for 66 years. We own a small lake and a big one. After heavy rains, each of our families also owns a one 1/30th share of a 60-foot waterfall, outflow from the big dam.
We stand on that dam, eyes following the creek below to a forested ridge a half-mile distant, radiant just now with fall color. Down in the valley we see grazing Angus cows, deer much too often and, occasionally, wild turkeys. We fish in the lakes, swim in the big lake or a pool.
We — rather bumpily — maintain 2.3 miles of asphalt private road.
We grouse a lot about the annual dues that support all this, presently $850 per household. But, “come on,” we tell ourselves, “we know it’s a pretty good deal because we do nearly all our own maintenance.” We have twice-yearly clean-up days when one-third of our adults swarm out to cut brush, blow leaves, move rocks and more.
I’ll never forget my own first approach in our snowplow of that day to our iciest, steepest hill. An experienced volunteer was at the wheel, but I braced myself with trembling hands on the dashboard.
Studded snow tires took us safely down, the salt spreader whirling behind us. A good friend once squirmed his way under our present snowplow to replace a vital part. Turned out, he couldn’t squirm backward. I had to drag him out by the feet.
We’ve long had volunteer lumberjacks, none better than a guy I’ll call Ken, who flummoxed the gas company each winter by heating his house entirely with wood.
He had technique. I watched one day as he notched a dead 80-foot roadside tree, then sawed partway into the backside. Using his “buffalo rope,” he hitched the tree to his diesel pickup, drove well away, and precisely yanked it down — 6 inches from my mailbox. Whew.
It’s amazing how dangerous happenings out here, given time, begin to seem funny. Long ago, one resident returned his family’s babysitter to her home. Arriving, his Volkswagen Bug slipped off the pavement onto a gas meter. It sat there hissing for a moment — time enough for the occupants to exit — before the vehicle burst into flame.
“Ha, ha, ha” that driver gasps as he recounts the tale today, “it melted the engine into a puddle of aluminum!”
We debate (quarrel?) some at association meetings.
“Cut that tree!”
But we elect seven directors each year, who appoint 11 committee chairmen. Seldom in my experience have they been tyrannical, like those described in The Star’s excellent series. We might be grubbing away at some dirty neighborhood job and find the president working a leaf rake beside us.
Homeowners associations — a great little form of government, wherein you can actually know the people for whom you’re voting. We need more of them.
Reach Charles Hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org.