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GAIL WHITE Great neighbors are another reason to be thankful



Published: Wed, November 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Nancy Audino has a heart full of thankfulness this Thanksgiving.

"I wish everyone could live in a neighborhood like me," she writes in a note to The Vindicator. "There are not enough words for me to say how lucky I am to live on Gladstone Road in North Jackson."

Sitting in Nancy's kitchen, enjoying her homemade chocolate cookies, surrounded by a group of Gladstone Road neighbors, I agree. Everyone should live in a neighborhood like this.

On this country road, with houses built sparsely between fields and forests, it would be easy -- almost natural -- for these residents to keep to themselves.

Instead, they are a most perfect example of loving thy neighbor, helping to carry the burden of a friend's heavy load.

They are proof that there is no limit to what a small group of caring individuals can do.

In 1979, Nancy's husband, Joe, was diagnosed with cancer.

"He started to get real thin around here," Nancy explains, pointing to her throat. "He just didn't look right."

What doctors discovered: Doctors explained to this couple with two young sons that Joe had a tumor in his stomach.

Joe received radiation to shrink the tumor while doctors prepared to operate.

"The first doctor opened him up and closed him right back up," Nancy recalls, the pain still in her voice.

The tumor had "shrunk" to 35 pounds.

"Imagine that," Nancy says, thinking of the pain her husband suffered, "carrying around 35 pounds in your stomach."

With the doctor's inability to remove the tumor, Joe was slowly progressing downhill. Nancy felt helpless.

Her neighbors did not.

"They had a woodcutting party," Nancy says, pulling out a photo album.

"They spent the whole day," recalls Roberta Williams, a resident of Gladstone Road for 40 years.

Pictures reveal a large group of men loading and unloading various pickup trucks full of wood and stacking it up in front of the house.

"That's not all of it," Nancy says with awe. "They stacked wood clear across the side of the house!"

Nancy responded to the kindness the best way she knew how. "We had a big meal in the rec room," she says with a smile.

Couldn't work: Eventually, Joe became too sick to work.

The neighbors responded to this need as well.

"They had a benefit at the American Legion in Lake Milton. It was packed," says Nancy, recalling that more than 300 people attended the benefit.

"It made him feel better," says Rita Staraitis, a neighbor on Gladstone Road for more than 25 years.

The women reminisce with fondness about the event.

"We brought his favorite chair to the Legion," smiles Roberta.

"He was too sick to walk," explains Rita.

Good news: After the event, Joe received good news. They had found a doctor who would operate.

In 1983, Joe's 35-pound tumor was removed.

He enjoyed seven more years of life until, in 1989, his kidneys failed.

Joe died in September of that year. He was 50 years old.

Twelve years after Joe's death, Nancy found out true neighborly love never dies.

This past year, the roof of Nancy's house began leaking. In September, her neighbors rallied around her once again and put a new roof on her home.

"They all just came and worked so hard," Nancy writes in her note.

Her longtime neighbor friends laugh. Their husbands, who worked so hard for the woodcutting party in 1980, played a different role in this event.

"They were on the ground crew," says a smiling Jen Grope, another neighbor of 25 years.

Many of their sons were involved in the project -- a new generation of Gladstone Road helping hands.

Once again, Nancy expressed her thankfulness by serving a big, homemade meal.

gwhite@vindy.com




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