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When Gill was here recently, we had a day free. She asked,”So, Ma, what do you want to do today? L’il Sis is off at work, Crazy D is somewhere on the Continental Divide trail through the U.S. and we have a full day for fun.”

“I’d love to do something special. But first I have to check my calendar. I have chores to do first. But I think, if I work quickly, I can clear some time by 2 this afternoon. Does that work for you?”

“Ma! What’s going on? Did you take on a job you haven’t told me about? Things getting tight financially with The Other Two living here? The Pig eating you our of house and home?” At this comment, The Pig (L’il Sis’ beagle) raised her head ever so slightly from the silk cushions on the sofa and glared at Gill.

“Oh, nothing like that. I’ve just agreed to look after a few chores for the neighbours while they’re away. No big deal really. . . ”

“That’s nice of you.What sorts of things?”

“Well,” I listed, checking my calendar. “The neighbours across the street are away for 6 weeks so I’m watering their indoor plants, keeping an eye on the house, collecting the mail, depositing cheques in their bank account. For the down-the-street neighbors, it’s just mail collection. The neighbour a few doors up the street needs me to let a guy into their house to work on the water filter system. My next door neighbors need the fish in their pond fed twice a day. And then there’s my former neighbor whose husband died recently. She’s in a Home with Alzheimer’s and I try to visit her every couple of weeks. And I occasionally look after some dogs — you know, feeding, walking. Then there’s…”

“Whoa, Ma! I’m dizzy just listening. I’ve heard of doing good deeds but this is exhausting.”

“Well, it seems I have truly become my neighbor’s keeper.” I held up a fistful of keys and showed her the auxiliary supply hanging on hooks in the mudroom.

“Wow! I’m either impressed or terrified that they entrust YOU, the woman with the most lax security anywhere, with their keys. Aren’t they afraid that someone might just walk in and steal all the keys to rob the other houses?”

“Are you kidding? It’s the best subterfuge there is. From the old junk piled willy-nilly in the garage to the unkempt garden, lawn full of weeds, squirrels jumping all over the roof, the Orkin Bug Killer truck a regular visitor, the used car lot that is our driveway, the broken front lock and the faded siding in need of washing, this house screams ‘nothing of value in here’. It’s reverse psychology at its best. Plus we have The Pig AND a very visible sign announcing that we have a Guard Beagle on Duty. And don’t forget, when she barks, it sounds like a baby being murdered. It doesn’t get more secure or more off-putting than that.”

“If you say so, Ma…but it still worries me that so many people have put you in charge.”

“Hey, I’m reliable and cheap! What they don’t know is that, one day, I’m gonna ask for favours from them. Then we’ll see who wins the game.”