February 5, 2008

Birds of my Neighborhood

Bill lived down the street. He was two days older than I and we were inseparable after we were six months old. Except for elementary school. He lived on the other side of the street. This line of demarcation meant he went to a different school. Thirty-five years after we met, he's in Atlanta, his mom is dead and his father is still trying to get used to life without his wife. I kinda miss Bill.

Jimmy marshaled the troops on cold Saturdays and Sundays and staged elaborate wars. He and his family moved when we were ten. We visited his family once in their gigantic new house in a gigantic new suburb without trees. I distinctly recall hitting on his sister. I don't think we ever saw them again. No relationship, I'm sure.

Brian lived on the other side of the neighborhood. He was my best friend aside from Bill who was more like a brother. Brian's gay now. Despite the fact that he claimed he was smitten with Elyse, we were pretty sure he was gay then too. He was justifiably confused. One night saturated with underage drinking, he tried to kill himself about five times. These weren't real attempts, just tortured adolescence revealing itself. One of these attempts still causes me to break into spontaneous laughter. I feel only slightly guilty about that.

Alicia lived down the street. She was hot. I'd stroll up and down the street thinking I was cool. I'm sure I looked like an idiot. I think she and I actually spoke once. Bridget and I were a different story. She was my first I'll show you mine, you show me yours person. She was a notorious tattler. As expected she told her parents. I wasn't allowed over there for a while. Later that year, a batch of copperheads hatched in one of their air vents and they were driven from their home in the middle of the night. I didn't know about the concept of karma at the time but the meaning did eventually catch up with me.

There was a guy who was perpetually building his own plane in his garage. And the Zallewskis lived across the street and one house over. We helped them put out the fire when their Gremlin spontaneously exploded in their driveway. The Austins lived next door on the corner. The Franks lived on the other. Both couples were my grandparents' ages; all four mentored my young parents.

I can't forget Russell. Russell almost killed me. I rode past his house on the sidewalk that he claimed was his. He was holding an arrow directly in my path. It was like a terribly anachronistic game of chicken in the Old West. The arrow ended up lodged in the pad surrounding my handlebars. I think you'll understand why I've always been skeptical about people named Russell. He was an asshole.

I don't know why I'm thinking of any of this. Maybe I'm just nostalgic. What is amazing to me is how inextricably linked I am to these people because of the neighborhood in which we grew up. Russell will always remember almost killing me. Bill will always remember, well, growing up - we were always together. The Zallewskis will forever remember the bucket brigade and the burning Gremlin. And Brian will always remember throwing himself out of his second story window through a patio cover. And me. Picking him up and telling him it would all be alright.

Where did you grow up? And who do you remember?

Posted by Chris at February 5, 2008 7:14 AM

We lived in an extremely rural area. Horses across the street. Further down, Tina & Tammy's grandmother and then right next door to her, Tina & Tammy (and their parents of course). To our left a crazy old coot who apparently lost it when his young son died in Vietnam -he had every tree and post surrounding his property covered in anti-government propaganda. To our right were Jenny & Christopher, who were quite a bit younger than us, but we were willing to play with them because they had an olympic sized pool. Their parents were a college professor and a car salesman (that strikes me as just SOOOO incongruous.

So I'm guessing I lost my guess at Wally's date of appearance.

Posted by: ocdcontrolfreak at February 5, 2008 7:36 AM

It's funny because I was and still am best friends with Bob, my name is Bill and I was two days older than him and we were inseperable from the time we were six months old. I always call him my brother in all but blood.

Posted by: william at February 5, 2008 7:54 AM

LOL! Okay, I'm not the Bridget from your childhood!! LOL!

It's crazy how much we can remember from our childhoods eh? But amazing at the same time!

I'm just hoping that I am making my children's childhoods as wonderful as mine was (or maybe I can just remember all the good parts!!)

Posted by: Bridget at February 5, 2008 8:11 AM

I didn't grow up in a neighborhood. The nearest neighbor was 1/2 mile down the road...the nearest neighbor under the age of 75 was miles and miles away. When I was 9 another 9 year old girl named Jennifer moved in about a mile down our rural county road. We were instantly best friends, mostly out of circumstance. We are still in touch today, but she lives far away and it's more of a birthday-and-Christmas kind of friendship.

Posted by: Alissa at February 5, 2008 8:14 AM

So here comes the time I have to admit that my first car was a Gremlin. Yep. It was bright green and I LOVED it. Even when I would come back to where I left it parked and the guys would have picked it up and faced it the other direction.

Unfortunately the bright green signaled GO to other cars and I had 5 wrecks in that car (none were my fault I pinky swear). The last one killed it.

My husband says that if he had met me while I was still driving that car we would have never married. Luckily he said that AFTER I married him or I might have just changed my mind. I did love that car.

Go ahead...laugh.

Posted by: daisy at February 5, 2008 8:40 AM

My first house was a tri-level on a tiny court in a neighborhood i'd be afraid to go to today. My next door neighbors had a huge dog and the mom made awesome birthday cakes (as in a stand up Snow White)... across the street were two boys our ages who had a fish tank we'd love to go see.

When we moved, we lived on a corner of a much larger court of a newer development. We were the house with the "three rocks in front" that everyone wanted to buy (we'd literally get people knocking on our door asking how much!). We were also one of two families on the court with a pool. Across from us was an older couple with what was called the 'pineapple tree' in their front yard (google it, it really did look like a giant pineapple), and next to us was a couple and their two kids the same age as us (my sister and I). The parents owned a antique/ collectible store in Old Town Sacramento (that's California)... their house was filled with tons of Coca Cola collectibles. Next to them was a family who we can still count on to shoot off their mini-cannon every 4th of July and New Years (and with that make every dog around us start barking). The last memorable family lived next to them. The Kleins. In fact, Helen and Norm Klein. If the names don't ring a bell, let me just say at age 80, Helen was performing in the Eco Challenge race (again... google it if you're not sure) and both her and her husband were doing 100 mile races (running races). Yes... at age 80!! They were amazing, what they could do. Got my dad running his very first marathon at age 50 (and he has yet to stop). As far as I know it, they're still very active in the sport, even if not performing themselves.

Ah... the good ol' days!

Posted by: Laura at February 5, 2008 9:00 AM

I grew up in South Florida with straight grid streets and few trees, some palms. We had some nice neighbours: Mr. Jim, an elderly man who I would stop by and have cookies with on my way home from elementary school, Herman, the gardener next door, and my friend, Erin, who lived on the other side of the street in a house exactly like mine only opposite. Our other next door neighbor was a divorcee with 4 kids: Kenny was a few cards short of a full deck, Kim was a cop, Johnny was a reggae loving delinquent who accidentally shot and killed their youngest brother in the garage. All these people stick out in my mind whenever I think of the house I lived in for 15 years.

Posted by: claire at February 5, 2008 9:04 AM

I grew up on a farm in a tiny, rural farming community, so I didn't really have the whole neighborhood experience. Most of my MySpace friends that I went to high school with I've known since I was five. I've known some of them even longer than that. I do have hazy memories of being young and in town -- a somewhat rare occasion for us since there wasn't a lot to do in town. Usually we were there because my mom needed to visit the bank or because my brother and I were driving her crazy. I remember eating a Baby Ruth in the bed of a pickup truck with a friend -- we were 4 or 5 -- and her older cousins and his friends.

I was a Brownie scout when I was 7 and 8 and a few times a year, we would make gift baskets for the elderly and one year, as we went around delivering them, a woman pulled me out of our small crowd of girls - I was standing toward the back and trying to be invisible - and took me inside. She knew my grandfather. I think we were related, somehow. My grandfather and great-grandparents lived in the same town for years and years. I don't know who the woman was, still don't, but she gave me an envelope with a lock of my grandpa's hair in it. When I gave it to my mom, she cried and cried. It was surreal and it took me years to understand the significance of that moment.

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at February 5, 2008 9:05 AM

I started to write a comment, but it got to be really long, so I think I'm going to write a post sometime today over at Inches and Falling. All about the boys of my youth. It's much less exciting than you might think.

Posted by: Arwen at February 5, 2008 9:07 AM

I grew up in San Jose CA in a regular old neighborhood. I think life was still very innocent in CA back than - it was '79. My best friends were Monica and Lara. They were trouble. One came from a ultra conservative Catholic family that has recently transplanted from MS or AL and the other came from a troubled family. And there was me just along for the ride most of the time.

It is a wonder I only ended moderately troubled from the experience. We smoked our 1st cigarettes together, drank our first taste of stolen wine and generally caused trouble all over the neighborhood. We did everything from stealing vegetables from the farm land behind our neighborhood and getting caught (that is now a highway and light rail system!) to riding our bikes to the 7/11 to get Slurpees & stickers.

Lara's parents had a hot tub so we hung out there & would watch movies on their big screen TV. We sang & acted out the scenes to Grease, Xanadu, & any other popular 70s musical. Now that I think about it we did much much more both good and bad.

We had sleep overs and fights and made up a lot of funny stories. We snuck into the weird Rose guy neighbor's yard and got caught. The best thing I remember from my early friendship with those girls was laying out under the stars one night waiting to watch a meteor shower with those girls. We fell asleep before it happened!

Something happened a fight or misunderstanding, than I moved away. Monica was troubled and I heard she had issues with her father (who used a belt to discipline them) and the law. Lara - I have no idea what happened to her.

Posted by: Christina at February 5, 2008 9:07 AM

Oh, wow. I don't have any cool stories like these. I'm jealous. I think people were more transient on the street where I grew up.

Posted by: Fraulein N at February 5, 2008 9:15 AM

cool post Chris... even though I was reading about your neighbors, I instantly thought of mine. I'll have to post about it later but right now my kids want me to get off the computer ;)

Posted by: august at February 5, 2008 9:24 AM

I grew up in the house my parents still live in. My best friends in grade 7 and 8 were named Susan and Susie. We thought we were so cool because we all had the same name and were such good friends. I later learned that people thought we were arrogant. oh well. Susie still lives in town and I've run into her a few times over the years because her daughter has been involved in some of the same activities as my son. (I still think we were kind of cool--everyone else was just jealous...)

Posted by: Susan at February 5, 2008 9:47 AM

My first years of life were spent in New York, where I lived on a block with a slew of my cousins. We were our own gang, and patrolled the New York streets on our Big Wheels :-)

Posted by: GreenCanary at February 5, 2008 9:56 AM

It's amazing what we remember from our childhoods ...

I wonder now, with the heightened state of awareness, if we don't get as close to our neighbors as we used to. Or, perhaps, I just feel that way because I live in an apartment and not a house.

In any case, I wonder what my son will remember from these early years.

Posted by: moo at February 5, 2008 10:25 AM

Being a Military Brat we lived in base housing for the best years I remember - my friend Neil and I ran the neighborhood. Jumping bike ramps, playing football, roaming the golf course nearby, jumping off roofs, teaching ourselves to break dance, and finally competing for the better math grade! We had a blast! We both ended up joining the Air Force and the last time I saw him was in 1994 at basic training. Hmm...wonder where he is now!

Posted by: Steff at February 5, 2008 10:26 AM

Heh. Its amazing how having kids will make you reflect on your own childhood.

Most of my close friends didn't live in our neighborhood. I went to a private Catholic School and my bestest friends were scattered all over the area. We did playdates before they were in vogue.

What I remember most about the old neighborhood was the sense of community. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone looked out for one another even if they didn't particularly LIKE one another. It was a safe place for the kids to ride their bikes, go sledding and play in the empty lot and the woods behind it. I miss those days. I haven't found a neighborhood like that in ages.

Posted by: NotAMeanGirl at February 5, 2008 10:38 AM

I grew up everywhere and nowhere. I remember everyone. It's a curse.

Posted by: Poppy at February 5, 2008 10:49 AM

I had a very cool neighborhood too. Lots of personalities, none of them the same. Great idea for a post.

My closest neighborhood friend was Dan. You'll recognize him from the trip I just took.

Posted by: Brad at February 5, 2008 11:27 AM

Funny you talk about this. I just recently, within the last few months went back to my old neighborhood in New York. I moved away from there when I was 10? 11? Something like that. It was really surreal to go back. So much changed, yet, so much was the same. There was a woman, not much younger than my own mother, who became like a second mother to me. I'd stay in touch with her, and then lost touch with her. I called her the week before we were going out there and I got to see her and hear about her kids (they were several years younger than I was). It was a blast. It made me glad to reconnect, because her house? Almost nothing changed. It was very eclectic, beatnick kinda. Very unlike my own house, and my parents house. It was like... home. I was kind of frazzled, since the Mini was fussy, but it felt better than my own house. Because right now, it's just a house. One of those things, I totally meant to blog about and just never got around to.

Posted by: statia at February 5, 2008 11:54 AM

I grew up on Cape Cod. So many of my happier memories (the ones I like to acknowledge, happened there), amidst the sandy beaches on sun drenched days.
My best friend was Tracy who left my life in High School when she came out of the closet and admitted she loved me and that she couldn't watch me ruin my life with my current boy friend. (She was right, My first husband was a jerk, although he gave me two great kids)
Another friend was sort of a stabilizing influence on me as she was one of those perfect kids. But then she went off to Brown University and I was raising kids of my own, and she "outgrew" our friendship.
A friend I met at summer camp when I was 13 has become my best and longest friend. 35 years as friends. And the most awesome part was that she and I have never lived in the same town. We wrote long letters, talked on the phone occasionally and got together once a year. Now we have Verizon cell phones and can talk any time for as long as we want and it is such a gift.

Posted by: Maribeth at February 5, 2008 11:59 AM

We moved around alot, but the place that I loved and remember the most was in Flagstaff, AZ. We lived there for my third – sixth grade career. We lived in a two story brink house that we adored. My brother’s room had a window that opened onto a ledge are of the roof. We spent way more time on the roof than anyone ever should. There was a huge hill that the whole neighborhood would sled down when it snowed, which was often in Flagstaff. The dad’s would drag the kids up the hill and the mom’s would stand at the bottom, taking pictures and making sure no cars came even close.

We played outside almost every day and there were kids everywhere. There was the pyro kid who set his dog house on fire at eight years old. He was dangerous and we knew it, even back then, but we still let him play. Stephanie was the girl whose parents were never home. They had the pool table, trampoline and the clubhouse in the backyard. Nathan was the first boy I kissed in that clubhouse. A neighborhood that closed down to cars on the 4th of July for block parties, and on Halloween, when every house had decorations up. There was also the famous light show competition at Christmas. I miss that neighborhood. I know it’s not the same any more, but that’s where I had the most fun as a kid.

Posted by: Phoenix at February 5, 2008 12:16 PM

I grew up in a great neighborhood in Albuquerque. There were a lot of kids on our block and we all played together. A few great memories:

Every 4th of uly we would have a parade, the Paige PL parade. All the kids would decorate their bikes and parents would decorate strollers and wagons. Someone always decorated a truck and kids rode in the back throwing candy to the spectators. I can remember my granparents and parents putting their lawn chairs in the front yard to watch the parade. Then the whole street would have a communtity barbeque and firework dislay.
Then there was Mr. Vaughn, god rest his soul. He had a big truck and everyday when he would come home from work he would honk his horn. That was the signal for all the neighborhood kids to come running to his house. He would always give us Dum Dum suckers. That ended when a parent complained. I like to keep that memory because when he died his ne'er do well son inherited his house and stared dealing drugs out of it.

I have many more but don't want to take up too much space.

Great entry.....thanks for helping me think of some good memories!

Posted by: kali at February 5, 2008 1:33 PM

I grew up in two places - Pasadena, CA, until I was five, and then Glendora, CA. Both of these are in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Glendora has the distinction of being one of the smoggiest towns in the USA.

In Pasadena, we lived in a house in the hills, close to wilderness. We routinely saw deer, coyotes, rattlesnakes, and bats. Yeah, bats. A group of them would come every night at 7 pm, in the summer, and swoop down and drink out of our swimming pool. It was a freaky sight. Also, my mom almost picked up a rattlesnake once, thinking it was a newspaper. She wasn't wearing her glasses that morning.

In Glendora, I remember an eccentric neighbor of ours who had a castle. Yes, a real castle. He kept bees there, and tons of peacocks, who would routinely crap in our backyard.

Posted by: Dawn at February 5, 2008 1:47 PM

I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Park Slope to be exact. It's not so much who I remember but the fact that when I grew up there it was still very neighborhoody. You could trick or treat at every house and actually eat the candy. Everybody knew each other. It's not like that anymore. So I'm thankful for those memories.

Posted by: Pinky at February 5, 2008 1:54 PM

I'm not friends, not even in contact, with any of the kids I grew up with, and yet during the summers we were absolutely inseparable.

I was a Caucasian girl, growing up in a neighborhood that was fast changing to mostly Hispanics, and my best friends were Vivian and Johnny, black cousins, and Maritsia, the Puerto Rican girl who lived down the block. We did everything together, including I'll show you if you show me.

Thanks for triggering that memory.

Posted by: Candy at February 5, 2008 2:55 PM

I grew up on a little one-way street and we knew every one (all these years later and moving 2500 miles away and I still know everyone). It was nice, since now I know two of my neighbors and that's it. Sort of sad really.

Posted by: Mandy Lou at February 5, 2008 3:22 PM

Great post, as always!

So no baby yet? Lisa wants to see photos of her future husband!

Posted by: Nadine at February 5, 2008 3:27 PM

I lived on a small island off the north coast of Scotland until I was 9. Our house was on the edge of a village and our immediate neighbours all seemed to be very old, I think several of them died while we lived there. The guy next door to us was so upset about his wife dying that he let his cats breed indefinitely. There were about 52 of them and his house stank. When I was 8 we went to visit relatives in England, when we came back most of them had died of cat flu.

I had lots of friends my age and it was a happy place, I just remember all those cats.

Posted by: Katherine at February 5, 2008 3:39 PM

I remember: white ruffled curtains on the bedroom window; having to turn our bikes around at our "boundaries" (one of which was called Meagan's Bump, because the sidewalk buckled just in front of her house); Brian from down the street getting mauled by a dog in the yard behind ours when he went to fetch a ball; Mike from down the street who chased my sister and I up a tree and swore he was going to get his father's axe (my sister climbed down and went in our house that was three feet away, but I stayed there for probably half an hour, petrified that he'd caught her, or that he'd catch me if I climbed down); listening to the train pass a block away; spending the night in our fort (half of the upper part of the garage) and coming down when it was dark to drink hose water and eat carrots from the garden; peeling bark from the birch trees and pretending they were scrolls.

I could go on, but this comment has become embarrassingly long. I always felt there wasn't much I remembered, but good Lord, I think the surface has only been scratched. Thanks for the memories.

Been thinking of you guys!

Posted by: Melissa at February 5, 2008 6:57 PM

We moved every 3-4 years during my early childhood, I still remember the friends I made.
Tinkerbell who told me her given name only once, so I don't remember what is was. Her bus stop was the one after mine, so we usually sat together.
Roseanne who lived just down the street from me, we were allowed to play until the street lights came on. If we weren't home right after they came one we were in trouble.
Sabrina who had the most siblings of anyone I knew. I think there were about 13 kids at her house, all under the age of 17. We used to play together on the playground, both of us misfits of some kind.
Serena, who died 2 years after I met her, was drug to death by a skittish horse the day we graduated from 6th grade.
Katy who stayed just about the same height the entire time I knew her. She was so fierce, in Middle School the boys were afraid of her. Mostly because she knew 'just' where to plant her knee if they didn't get out of her way.
Sarah I met and became friends with in Middle School, and stayed best friend with all the way to college. Who now won't speak to me, even to tell me why.
And Jenny whom I befriended in High School, and have stayed best friends with. She was one of my bridesmaids, and I was one of hers.
This comment got really long, thanks for the memories, I'll have to do a post about old friends.

Posted by: Tina at February 5, 2008 7:50 PM

I still have a ferocious scar across the top of my foot from a sprinkler jumping incident gone bad. The incident occurred after my classmate/neighbor dared me to commit the expressly forbidden act. I would have gotten away with it, too. Except that the dripping blood was a tip-off to our parents.

Posted by: Sphincter at February 5, 2008 10:15 PM

I grew up in a small suburb of east Houston (Sheldon to be exact, but most people wouldn't know where that is). We moved in when I was 5, and my mom still lives there. My best friend lived down the street, and there were kids my age in almost every third house.
We would have pine cone wars. You would gather as many pine cones as that dorky basket on the front of your bike could possibly hold, then go bombard the enemy (the boys) with them. We even went high-tech one summer and all chipped in to buy a set of walkie-talkies. There had to be at least 20 kids playing at any time. We would play all day, only returning home to eat lunch and get drink of water. You could ride all over the neighborhood and be safe.....but I can't imagine letting my kids play in the front yard without me being out there with them. Doesn't that suck?

Posted by: Jen at February 6, 2008 1:35 AM

Oh God! We had a Gremlin. I wish it had exploded!

Posted by: Heather at February 6, 2008 9:19 PM