Wednesday, March 12, 2008

12th Street

I'm looking out my window. I'm on the second story and have a roof-level view of a little square of 12th Street. The house directly across from me used to be the Slineys'. We didn't know the Slineys well, but one day, soon after we started the big renovations on our house, there was a knock on the door, and it was Mrs. Sliney. She had two photos with her that showed our house on the bed of a truck being moved here. The pictures are printed with "April 1959" on them, and she said she thought we'd enjoy having them. They were priceless, unexpected gifts that now form the frontispiece of the photo album we made to document the changes we made to the house over the years.

The house next to the Slineys, with the big dormer roof built across the top, was the Burtons'. "Burt" is a retired Marine, gentle and very quiet; Elizabeth was the neighborhood "historian" (less charitable tongues termed her a gossip). On summer evenings they would pull metal lawn chairs out to their driveway and watch the world go by. Sometimes they'd invite us over, and that was a treat, because Elizabeth would tell stories about the neighbors. You felt kind of funny, lapping up all this juicy dirt, and you definitely didn't want to let her get to know you well enough to become part of her repertoire. But you sure learned a lot.

On the other side of the Slineys, visible to me if I lean to my right a bit, lived divorcee Gerri Watson, and directly across from Gerri, next door to us, was widow Cici Barr, a tiny, sweet lady from Colombia who married a WW II vet and settled here. Gerri was the wild one. By day she was a buttoned-down accountant in A-line skirts and harlequin glasses. But by night she liked to par-tay!! In our first years here, we used to throw major Christmas bashes with some hundred or so people sardined into this place. We used the usual ploy of inviting all the neighbors, reasoning they couldn't complain about noise if they were invited to make some of it. Gerri and Cici always showed up, and always first. Gerri was a vision in the same dress every year, a floor-length taffeta number that looked like it had been stashed away since her 1950s prom. Her brown wig was teased so high she had to look out for our ceiling fans. And the look was always completed by those harlequin glasses. Cici, of course, was along for the ride but sort of faded into the woodwork next to Gerri. As they arrived at the first party and we led them to the bar, Gerri made no bones about informing us that they were "here to meet men!" Knowing the mostly lavender, or already-spoken-for, complexion of the crowd that was on its way, we just wished them happy hunting and moved on. As the party got going, who was after what ceased to matter. Gerri danced up a storm with any human on two legs, harlequin frames and towering wig more and more aslant, at opposing angles. (Sadly, Gerri and Cici had a falling out in a few years--we never knew about what--and they stopped speaking. Gerri also stopped speaking to us, too, we think because of the sometimes boistrous Friday happy hours we started having on our new front porch. She was never specifically invited, but nobody was. It was a happy hour--just show up if you want to. But Gerri chose to take a negative view. Her loss. She'd have been welcomed with open arms if she had just come over.)

We soon learned that Gerri didn't limit her prowling just to our parties. One summer on a late Saturday night as we were driving home from somewhere, we spied Gerri walking to her house, barefoot, in her yellow shortie pajamas, a satchel of beer under her arm. She was coming from the Burtons'. We never knew how long the flame had burned between her and Burt, but apparently it grew from pilot maintenance to sear after Elizabeth went to her reward.

All of those people, original settlers in our neighborhood, are gone now. Burt got too frail to keep up his meticulous landscaping and moved in with his son; his wife Elizabeth, the Slineys, Gerri and Cici have all passed on. The Burtons' house and Gerri's are now rentals housing crowds of young singles who have their own parties--they've never invited us. The neighborhood still looks the same, but the feeling is different. We were once the hot new blood on the street; now we're just settled fogies who worry about real estate values.

The current talk in the air about change is nothing to new to us. We've been talking about it for a few years now, and it has nothing to do with politics. We are ready to turn a new page in our own lives, ready to be the new guys on the street again, in the new house. And so help us, it'll happen.

10 comments:

Jenny said...

I'm enjoying your posts about transition. My husband and I are planning to retire soon--moving from Kentucky to British Columbia where we already have a house (and family and friends) waiting for us. It's been a long term plan that is finally going to happen and we are looking forward to the next "phase" of our lives, the next adventure.

Ralph said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jenny. I so empathize with you and wish you the best as you leave Kentucky, beloved to me as that state is. I've only seen pictures of British Columbia, but they are uniformly beautiful. And it's Canada!

Zoey & Me said...

I know what you mean. When I visited Northern VA last November I went back to our two old neighborhoods and it's all new people living there. Actually the feeling was the same in Arlington but much different in Mt Vernon. Man has that area grown up. But real estate values were always good for us up there. We did well on the two homes we owned and sold. I know when I walked the one neighborhood I could almost feel Carl Barnes, who passed on, the Porterfields who loved it there, they've moved, friends who were older than us.

Ralph said...

Z&M, speaking of real estate values, this area has remained fairly well insulated from the disaster that has happened elsewhere, but our assessment did go down this year from last. It's one of the things that makes our Delaware plans problematical at this point. All in all, though, we've been very happy here in the Peoples Republic of Arlington.

Anonymous said...

Ralph,

Your post was so poignant and reminiscent of a time gone by. I gently disagree that it is because "we" (our generation" got older - it is more that leisure time for many is very little and filled with errands, chores etc.

I grew up with sitting outside and visiting the neighbors. Wherever, be it relative, friend or neighbor... in the warm weather the visit was outdoor with people stopping by for a minute or to join. There are snapshots of these times that hold some of my better memories of childhood and instilled in me my sense and want of community.

My sense of community these days has expanded to an online community. This is one wonder of the 'net. The other is that some of us have grown into "puter potatoes" replacing "couch potatoes" I admit to often being one and liking it.

And again, I cheer you and Steve on as you face the challenges of transition.

Linda
SE PA

Ralph said...

Hi, Linda. It's an odd thing that I was sort of reminiscing about how things used to be here, but they "used to be" a very short time ago. The neighborhood has gone through a really fast transition, in a matter about just 10 years. I guess change and the desire for it come quickly as you approach a certain age.

I so agree with and laughed at your "'puter potato" comment. I still fight it--I try to mete out my time here so I can do other things that need to be done. Spending 2 or 3 hours a day here choosing music and writing is a new thing for me. But I just love the writing, and the sense of community. I agree, it's one of the wonders of the 'Net.

Kat said...

Ralph,
Somehow I missed this post yesterday. It is now one of my favorites of yours. Thanks!

Ralph said...

You're most welcome, my dear. It seems systems aren't comminicating somehow because your visits haven't been registering in Statcounter, either. Oh well.

Kat said...

Ralph,
I don't know why I don't register. I usually drop by each day using the link from Coffee, Maybe that's where the counter has me listed.

Ralph said...

Actually, it shows the delivering link and my page loaded. I also have you id'd by IP. You haven't shown up for about three days. Today you did.