This place deserves a book; but at the moment it will have to settle for a post. I know there are thousands of neighborhoods, perhaps many more interesting, but not that I have called home.
One of the things I have realized is that when we moved into this house, living in any true neighborhood was not something I had ever done; well perhaps I should rephrase and say I had never been a neighbor, just an occupant of a house or an apartment.
Back in the day, when we bought into our Village, you had to meet with a member of the “Welcoming Committee”; there job was not so much to welcome you as it was to give a booklet of by-laws and go over all of the most important rules that you were expected to follow.
I have no idea how legally binding it might have been, but our ability to buy our house was contingent on passing that interview. I do know that we were accepted, and I also remember that the first morning, after we had moved in, we found a welcome warning, from the city, telling us that we could not have empty boxes on the front porch; trash could not be seen from the street. I have to say I miss those days; though I was quite outraged by the “ticket” without a fine.
The first board meeting which we went to was all but standing room only; Kate said this is what neighbors do, so we went and kept going. Eventually Kate was elected to that board, and we spent more than a few hours working with and fighting against the board; now it is impossible for them to have quorum.
When we first bought our home in the Village, we were very close to being its youngest residents. I think our youth was actually appealing to our neighbors. Mel, the man who sold us the house, said he picked us, though our bid was not the highest, because he thought we would be good neighbors to Phil, to our south, and Tom and Ruth to our north. Can you imagine that being a consideration when conducting business these days?
What made this Village special to me was timing; elements aligned and we happened upon the house at the right moment. The neighborhood still had some of the original residents; people who had been the first occupants of their home, which was actually pretty amazing.
For me, when we got ready to buy a house, my number one criterion was that we could pay the mortgage working at McDonalds, before a fifteen dollar minimum wage. I did not fall in love with this house, it was more about affordability and the fact that the yard was empty and I felt like I could work with it. Next it was important to me that it had two bathrooms and three bedrooms, so that my Mother could have her own space. After that, nothing else mattered, thus the shag carpet going up the walls, serving as baseboards, the fuzzy wall paper, and past outdated kitchen and bathrooms, were all fine.
But to my original neighbors, they were not living in an acceptable, middle class neighborhood, they were in paradise! In those days the majority of my neighbors were transplants from New York City, where space was a premium. Our neighbors had escaped snowy winters, and most traded the city for the village, with attached garages, walk-in closets, a water view, and a large pool with a clubhouse; where variety shows and dinner parties were held.
What I did not learn until later, after we got to know people better, was these members of the Greatest Generation, had lived rather extraordinary lives, and by and large paying a mortgage was not part of their consideration, when buying a house.
They were well traveled, and not just a rail pass tour of Europe, but rather Europe right after World War II, safaris at William Holden’s properties (go ahead look him up millennials) trips to China before Mao, and Hollywood parties when glamor was not a lost cliché. They had stories to tell, and if you were willing to listen, they would sit at their grand pianos, serenading the party, and telling tales of what it was like to play the trombone with Frank Sinatra’s band, or why they had an original Renoir hanging in their breakfast nook.
There would be unofficial gatherings at the pool, where yes what was on sale would be discussed, and gossip about whose children were down to visit whom; but also conversations about how people were and if anyone was unwell or hospitalized and in need of a visit. I loved that people would bring books to the pool and actually talk about what they were reading and want to know what you reading. People had season tickets to the ballet and the opera, went to the movies and yes, played bridge!
If invited to dinner everyone came on time, and was charming, with stories you wanted listen to. To me it was magical. I felt for a time that I was living in one of those Doris Day movies, set in Connecticut, where the protagonist worked in New York City.
It appealed to me that so many of the neighbors were intellectuals; I marveled that woman of a certain age, had actually earned graduate degrees in a time when woman were lucky to go to high school, or gone into a field like nursing because a war provided them an opportunity to see the world. I miss them all so much and feel so very fortunate our lives intermingled for a time.
Time and an overactive hurricane season changed our little village. Seventeen days without power proved too much for many and then it seemed like from one day to the next, our neighbors who could and would get out on the dance floor, suddenly began to feel the ravages of age.
When my Mother could no longer travel, we moved north and put this house on the market. We now have a home in New England, and it does feel like home; but our house did not sale, and after my Mother died we came back here with our little dog, Merry Margaret, who we also lost that year.
Driving into the village now, we still comment on how Eva’s house looks, though Eva is no longer there and I have no idea who bought her house, though they have done a very nice job of fixing up the outside. Evelyn’s house is on the market again, as is Mike’s. The neighborhood looks different, people are fencing in more yards, there are too many cars, and we now have people parking boats at their houses! I can no longer walk the streets of the village and know who lives in most of the houses; or more importantly know that they would open the door to me, if I was walking at midnight, which I happily and often used to do.
It is no longer a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of New York City transplants, which are all retired. There are children and working adults and dogs, which chase my ducks. I can no longer sit in my Florida room, looking out the glass doors, and name my neighbors, except for Nour and Ivey; but it is not the same.
I hate to think that we no longer belong here, that this is no longer our home. I struggle with wondering if we can regain a place at the pool. I hate change and hate the thought of saying goodbye. So much happened in this house, and I cannot help but remember its heyday, with both our neighbors and our friends and family.
We had amazing parties with the Luis’s and their Columbian wives, with Adriana and Marcial, with my Aunt Helen and Uncle David and Aunt Roxane, with Fran and Milton, and with oh so many other people who are now mostly gone.
Yes, I am feeling nostalgic for my past; and I am also wondering if “neighborhoods” are going the way of so much else. I used to bake a cake and pot up a selection of plants, when we had a new neighbor; but I have stopped. I do not know if it became too many new neighbors or people whom I just felt like we were too different from one another, and somehow it mattered.
I have mourned our neighborhood, but recently, the latest people to buy Thuy and Tuan’s house, surprised us, in the nicest way possible. Since they have moved in, we have been friendly, saying hello, waving, and smiling, but I have not baked them a cake or taken them any plants. But this week, while Kate was working in the yard, the older man came over and told us he was coming back to help Kate process the trees. We told him it was not necessary, but he smiled, walked back across the street, picked up his machete, and came back, hacking up the tree’s in minutes. We thanked him and offered him some home baked goods, which he graciously accepted. Since then the rest of the family has returned our hellos and waves; and we have been able to share some of our fresh coconuts with them, which he processed with his machete like a pro!
No, I do not think we will be inviting each other to dinner or meet up at the pool or spend time with extended family, from out of town; but I know we would answer the door to Justin in the middle of the night and I also think that from now when we drive down the street, I will comment about Justin and his family’s house, not how Thuy and Tuan’s house looks.
Like I said, I hate change, I always have; but whether we embrace change or not, we cannot stop it from rolling over us. However, maybe there are changes worth adapting to for the sake of being able to sit on the porch, in the sun, drinking a cup of coffee and remembering. That Is All For Now.