We had traveled half a block down our neighborhood street, walking so slowly through the morning chill that we risked toppling over. At the time, Happenstance (“Happy,” for short) was 15 and his dog’s life would soon come to an end. I, his loyal companion, had recently celebrated my 53rd birthday.
Happy had just come to a wobbly stop and was deeply involved in sniffing the grass in front of Tamar’s house right as she happened to be heading down the block toward us, a grocery bag in each hand. I waved to her and wondered to myself where she was returning home from at such an early hour and what she was carrying in the grocery bags. She was likely walking home from the bus stop up on 17th avenue. Tamar usually rides the bus – always has as she never learned to drive – although most Sundays a family member or friend gives her a ride to church and out for a special meal.
Tamar waved back at me, smiling shyly. Happy and I waited in front of her house for her to arrive so we could chit-chat and catch up. After exchanging pleasantries, Tamar asked me if it had been me who had left the big bag of persimmons on her front stoop a few weeks back and thanked me for my thoughtfulness if indeed it had been. She mentioned, as she had many times before, how much her late husband Sanjay loved persimmons and what a treat they are to receive and how many happy memories they hold.
Our conversation then turned to my daughter Isobel, who had just returned to Paris, France after having been home for the winter holidays. Tamar mentioned having caught a couple of glimpses of Izzy and how proud she was of her and the young woman she has become. And wouldn’t Connie – who used to live in a house right across the street from Tamar — be so proud of Izzy, too? Connie and Tamar are still best friends though Connie died three years ago after having been long-ago widowed. Connie didn’t believe in Halloween but every October 31st during Izzy’s childhood she would show up on our front stoop before dusk, a bag of candy in hand to offer to Izzy, a reverse Trick-or-Treat.
Halloween happens to be one of my favorite holidays, so having an empty nest for the past several years has meant that unless at least a couple of neighborhood kids deign to cast a shadow on my stoop, I’m plunged into a dark place made all the worse by the surfeit of unclaimed mini candy bars with which I’m left. Halloween 2018 was particularly bleak, so much so that I told my tale of woe to the two little girls who live in the house in between my house and Tamar’s house. The big sister of the pair who – you might be interested to know — gives spontaneous backyard solo performances of improvised songs about the hassles of having a little sister and parents who thwart her most amazing plans, made a promise on the spot to not leave me alone on future Halloweens. She and little sister and a small gang of their pals made good and showed up on the most recent Halloween, demanding treats (and big sister proudly announcing that she had fulfilled her promise to me!).
Fred – Connie and Tamar’s other best friend, and one of my best friends, too – never got to meet the two little neighbor girls as he died well over a decade ago, before they were born. But wonderful Fred, who lived in the same house for 80 years, next to Connie and across from me, knew their parents and he has been made real to the little girls through the stories their parents tell about him, the angel of our neighborhood.
Fred is gone and so is his resplendent, unruly garden, the paradise where I spent many summers working at his side, in its place a new, huge house and a new tenant I have yet to meet. Connie is gone and so is her sprawling, singular brick house, replaced by another new, huge house occupied by a family I’ve met but once and whom I rarely see. But Tamar and I and the little girls and their parents still dwell in our mature, unassuming homes, and we still remember Connie and Fred (and John, who lived two blocks over, on the way to the park), and love them still, not only in memory but actively in the present, because of who they were in our lives, and the rich connections we mutually cultivated.
- This essay is part four of an ongoing series of essays exploring the lived experience of aging in particular times, places, and spaces. You can read more here and here and here!
- The image at the beginning of the essay is a photo of a little surprise I found when I was walking in my neighborhood park.
- If you are wondering who Fred is, you can learn more about him here.
- What’s on your mind these days? Be in touch!
What a lovely tribute to neighborhood legacies and the connectedness created in small communities of like minded people. Beautifully written.
Thank you Ms. Ruby!
This is the first time I have been here. Because I have heard you read stories and poems out loud, I can now hear you reading these tidbits out loud in my head.
I have always enjoyed your writings and that has certainly not changed.
Thank you so much for sharing,
Thank you so much for your kind words, Julie! Glad you are here.
Thanks for posting this, and thanks so much for reading it at your presentation on Critical Gerontology on Monday!
I thoroughly enjoy the written-word painting of your neighborhood – homes, nature, and people, and the interactions between them. It makes me wonder how those work here in the Emirates, where generational thinking and “family” have a very different meaning than what we typically see in the US. Maybe much more like early immigrant families from Europe a century ago. Thank you for your work!
Thanks, my old friend, for reading me and for your thoughtful comments. I’m interested in how culture and geography (and other contexts) shape human experience, so feel free to share your observations!