I’ve been thinking recently about neighbours past and present. It all started when I got a comment a couple of weeks ago on my blog from Becky E. Becky! How did she ever find me — I must start asking folks that? She had lived next door to us in the 1950s when I was 8 or 7, or 6? Becky! And here she was now rekindling all those childhood memories for me and my sister Susie and, really, all of my siblings.
She was our neighbour and our friend. Becky was the same age as my sister, Susie, making her one year older than me. But that didn’t seem to matter so much with us little girls. We three played together all the time. Susie would stand at the hole in the fence behind the lilac bush that was our short-cut to Becky’s house. Then she would yell, as loud as she could,”Becky!” It must have annoyed the hell out of her mom sometimes but we didn’t think about that. We just wanted to play in her backyard. She had grass. We hadn’t seen grass in our backyard for a long time. What can you expect with 12 kids, an assortment of dogs and cats and even an occasional duck? She also had a hill to roll down and a Brick Barbecue that her dad had built in the backyard that had its own little chimney and side panels just perfect for little girls to play on. Once, when we were feeling romantically dramatic, we each climbed up on the fireplace and jumped off singing, “We Were High and Mighty,” — we didn’t know any of the other words to the song but it didn’t matter. Just those five little words were enough to create our game of pretending we were being caught by a dashing movie star lover. For some reason, I was quite enamoured by Gene Autry at that time in my life. Could it be because I liked his horse, Champion? Susie went through a Hopalong Cassidy phase, but I don’t know if he was her imaginary lover on those jumps from the fireplace. I wonder who Becky fantasized about at the time??? Becky wrote in that comment that being neighbours with the Eyermans were her fondest childhood memories. Imagine!
You know, when you’re neighbours you share a lot of stuff — geography, people, places, sounds, smells, seeds. You’re connected in ways that are not the same as what you have with friends in a different part of the city or suburbs. But, and here’s the rub, those friends you choose — neighbours you don’t. It’s a scary crap shoot sometimes on who ends up living close by. My Yogi Friend, Judith, is going through Neighbour Hell at the moment living beneath a very selfish body-builder-weight-lifter lunatic. She has to suffer through dropped weights, grunts and a dismissive disregard for anyone but him. I had one of those when I lived in DC. She played her music so loudly that the walls shook and the cats screeched in protest. When I mentioned to her one night that I could hear her music all the way down the street from the bus stop, she told me to suck it up. “This is City Living,” she sneered at me. The landlord evicted her shortly thereafter. But, at the same time, I had the dear Chatmons next door who would invite me into the kitchen for fresh baked biscuits and a shot of whiskey. It all balances out, I guess, with neighbours.
When I first moved to Toronto, I didn’t know any of my neighbours — except Len, of course. He lived next door and shared a staircase with me and the Murmuring Ex-Husband. But I didn’t know the people across the street or down the block. Of course, this probably had more to do with my focus at the time of trying to figure out how to get from point A to B in a city I didn’t know and in a marriage I was finding a little difficult to comprehend. Also, I was always going out back and getting in a car to go here or there and not walking up the street sixteen times a day like I do now. It’s hard to meet your neighbours from a car.
Eventually the car died, the Murmuring Ex-Husband moved out and I started one-by-one meeting my neighbours. It helped to have my little friend, Finn, next door. By the time he was two, he knew everyone’s names on the block. All I had to do was to take his little finger and walk up the street with him and, walla, just like magic I knew the names of the people in all those houses. I haven’t seen a lot of folks — including Finn — most of the winter. People are just now starting to come out of hibernation — even though it snowed today. I think we’re all ready to talk gardens and summer vacations and new babies and how ridiculous it is that they’re tearing up the Spadina streetcar tracks yet again, and all that other neighbourly stuff.
Oh, I did run into Finn the other day on the street. I was looking in the bookstore window at Mexican Cookbooks for some reason, when I heard a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of a bike bell. There he was, with his mom, coming home from school. After the initial chit-chat, he got down to his business. He wanted more information about the Easter Egg Treasure Hunt I had planned for Sunday. I was giving no pre-clues to Clues and that was final. He suggested that, just maybe, I’d want to have that Easter Egg Hunt on Friday since he had the day off and it was, after all, the beginning of Easter vacation for him. No way, I told him. Then we made our neighbourly way home. It was sweet.