Neighborly spirit

Neighbors help neighbors in need. That may be true in Midwestern towns and in American lore, but just an hour south of Los Angeles? For residents of a tight-knit community in Costa Mesa, that maxim came to life one Saturday morning in June.

Jeannie Tuxford, a mother of two, had just lost her husband of 20 years to pancreatic cancer. She left her Mesa Verde home and traveled to his hometown near Toronto, where she spread his remains. Tuxford, 50, had left a bare refrigerator, disheveled garden and worn paint on her white picket fence.

For the last few months before her husband died at age 59, Tuxford found it more and more difficult to keep her and her daughters' lives together. She had supported George during his two-year battle against cancer while working full time as a travel agent. And right before the end, she was consumed by the round-the-clock care George required.

Tuxford's neighbor, Tracy Brown, saw the small things piling up. After George died, she prepared dinners for Tuxford and the girls, ages 11 and 14. She noticed their home needed some care. So she planned a work party for when Tuxford was in Canada.

Brown, 44, handed out fliers to nine of her neighbors and asked them meet at the Tuxfords' home with a flat of flowers or a potted plant. To her surprise, about 25 neighbors showed up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, ready to work.

"I just thought her house was going to be overwhelming, starting her new life as a single mom," said Brown, who has three boys about the same age as Tuxford's children. "It's nice to take some time out and help a neighbor."

Brown's generosity spread, from her children to friends and even passersby. Her husband brought his power washer to blast the walls and windows. Her sons brought firewood to stock the Tuxford's dwindling pile. She even brought a folding table for coffee and doughnuts, setting it up on their lawn.

One of Tuxford's daughters, who was unable to fly, let the neighbors in.

Some people walking by asked if they were having a garage sale.

No, Brown would reply, they're cleaning.

Impressively, many joined.

They stocked her refrigerator, cleaned her car, replaced cushions on her patio chairs (George's favorite place to relax), hired professional housekeepers, organized her garage, pruned dead plants from her garden, and did her laundry.

Then, they surprised Tuxford in person by hanging a "welcome home" banner with their signatures and handprints, and in the evening they regrouped and laid out small candles on her driveway.

When she arrived home, after a long day of delayed flights, she was suspicious.

"I was concerned that there were all these candles and no one was home," said Tuxford, who has a broad smile.

She made her way through to the backyard to find 25 people waiting.

"It is just amazing people would come together and give up their Saturday morning to do this act of love," Tuxford said. "My house was spotless."

Since the Tuxfords moved to Mesa Verde 15 years ago they saw many new families moving in, including the Browns. Most newcomers have arrived within the last 10 years.

"It's an amazing neighborhood," she said. Every Thanksgiving she and neighbors have a successive dinner course as they travel from house to house. They throw a Fourth of July block party and a hold a Christmas gift exchange. And, each Monday night the ladies gather to watch "The Bachelorette."

Now, they take turns bringing the Tuxfords dinner, thanks to Brown's organizing.

"She's just the most generous person," Tuxford said.

While Brown likes to give, she's modest.

"We just made it nice for her," she said in the backyard, where tidy plants surrounded her tile pool deck. "It was just a little face-lift."

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