Won’t You Stay My Neighbor? by
10
(18 Stories)

Prompted By Neighbors

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I have lived in many, many places over the years.  My longest tenure was at the second of the two houses I grew up in, from the time I was four years old until two weeks after my college graduation, when my parents decamped to South Florida.  In my other homes, neighbors came and went.  Not on our street.  The neighbors on each side, the “Fosters” and the “Griffins”, and our rear neighbor, Mr. “Troy”, were there when we arrived, and still there when we left eighteen years later. Talk about stability!

[T]he Fosters' marriage was the second for each. Seems that there had been an "exchange" at some point earlier such that two couples had simply, shall we say, reorganized.

Ours was a small city urban neighborhood.  No cookie-cutter houses, but lot sizes were pretty much standard on our West Side – ours was sixty feet by one hundred twenty.  Just the same as the neighbors.  Dutch Colonial was the style, and the houses were good-sized.  Not “large” but good-sized.

Does anyone ever really get to know one’s neighbors?  Do any deep and lasting friendships result?  Perhaps, but that was not our experience on my childhood street.  Relations were friendly and warm, but not close.

To our west, the Fosters were little different from our family.  Only two children, a girl and a younger boy, but our parents were contemporaries.  Dr. Foster was a physician, like my dad, but he had an office that was an extension of their home.  It was a corner lot so the office’s separate entrance was on the adjacent street. Because the properties were on the small side and the yards small, there were many occasions for neighborly light chitchat.  Whenever mom happened to be chatting with Dr. Foster over the hedge one could be sure that Mrs. Foster would soon make an appearance.  Never failed.  I don’t know how they knew, but my parents recounted how the Fosters’ marriage was the second for each.  Seems that there had been an “exchange” at some point earlier such that two couples had simply, shall we say, reorganized.  Maybe that’s why Mrs. Foster was so quick to come out when she spotted her husband and mom talking.  Gotta play defense.  I remember being amused that the Fosters had named their Irish setter “Colonel” and their fat housecat “Major”.  And still more amused when their daughter, Janice, married a new graduate of West Point. I wonder if the pets were in the wedding party.

To our east, the Griffins. Mr. Griffin was the local Budweiser distributor.  Years later our law firm represented a Budweiser distributor in southeastern Connecticut and I remember that the powers that be (were?) in St. Louis forbade their distributors from carrying other unaffiliated brands.  Not so in the fifties, it seems.  Mr. Griffin seemed to have a corner on all of the imported brands. I remember that he gave my sisters and me all sorts of branded souvenirs – pens, pins, etc. – with exotic brand names, like Tuborg.  I don’t know the source of their information but my parents had it on good authority that Mr. Griffin had been a bootlegger during Prohibition.  Perhaps that’s why he had such an “in” with foreign concerns. When I was a bit older Mrs. Griffin hired me to shovel their walk.  She paid well.  The Griffins also had a yappy dog, a Boston terrier named “Buddy”. (Of course; you were expecting “Miller”?) Perhaps my fondest memory was of their two-story-and-then-some blue spruce that abutted the southwest corner of their house and the edge of our driveway.  Each Christmas Griffin employees would string large blue Christmas lights on the tree.  At the time few homes had outside holiday lights, so this was a real treat. I eagerly awaited Christmas Eve when they would keep the lights on all night rather than turning them off at bedtime. I used to sneak down in the wee hours to look.

Mr. Troy, our rear neighbor was a more mysterious figure.  An older man (meaning probably fifteen to twenty years younger than I am now), he lived alone.  I don’t know whether he ever had a family.  He kept to himself.  My only interactions were the many times when an errant ball flew over our fence into his yard and I had to retrieve it.  When I was very young I was fearful, but Mr. Troy was kind.  He never said a word, just smiled and nodded at me as I found the ball and retreated.

Seventeen years after we left that house my sisters and I, together with our families, returned to town for a wedding.  We dropped by our old house and were pleased to find that the family that had succeeded us was still there.  I don’t know if our old neighbors were still around.  I doubt it, but perhaps our successors, the “Kramers”, were now the neighbors of longstanding to the abutting properties.  I’d like to think so.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


Characterizations: been there, funny, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    Great vignettes about all these folks, Tom. Really got a sense of them, at least from a kid’s perspective. Living next to a beer distributor must have seemed like Nirvana. (Though maybe smells a bit more like hops. than teen spirit.)

    And, as to the Fosters, I remember a similar exchange among Yankee pitchers years ago. Mike Kekich one of them? I will google.

  2. joan stommen says:

    I enjoyed your story, Tom! How wonderful you recall such details about these folks. Perhaps those that touched our early years leave the biggest footprints. I remember my dad and the man next door deciding over the back yard fence if weather conditions were right to hose their back yard skating ponds. How did they know it would freeze smooth with no snow on top so we kids could get up and skate in the morning? Great story, thanks for pulling up my memories as well!

    • Thanks, Joan. Funny you should mention skating ponds. Our yard was way too small for a pond but we did have an above ground swimming pool; not large, just 22 feet in diameter and three feet deep but for kids it was terrific. We had to remove the sod from the lawn to accommodate the pool, and in the winter we had a canvas cut to the dimensions of the space that my dad would flood. Like the swimming pool was for swimming, the “pond” didn’t accommodate real skating but for kids it didn’t matter.
      Yes, it’s amazing how firmly etched these neighborhood memories are.
      Tom

  3. John Zussman says:

    Wonderful recollections of both a time and a place. Isn’t it interesting how neighbors, if one takes the trouble to learn about their lives, can be a portal to areas of life (like marital reshuffling) and history (like Prohibition) that might otherwise be closed to us? Down my street, my best friend’s father was a funeral director. It felt a little creepy but when my father died, it was a comfort to have someone we knew so well making the arrangements. Then when I was a teenager I worked for him at the funeral home, which opened up a whole different side of life (and death) to me!

    • Just so, John, and thank you. In that vein, a family in the next block became very close friends for decades. The dad was the general manager of the local GE plant. He was an up and comer and was promoted through several rungs, including becoming the GM of the major plant in Lynn, MA before he was passed over and ‘lateraled” to NM. A front row seat to the life of a “company man”.

      Tom

  4. Suzy says:

    Tom, these are great recollections of your neighbors! My childhood house was just like the Fosters’, a corner lot with the entrance to my father’s medical office on the side street. I never knew of anyone else who had an arrangement like ours, so it was nice to learn about the Fosters. When you went back 17 years later, was it still a medical office?

    • No. I think what happened was that whether it was Dr. Foster or a subsequent owner, the use was abandoned. I suspect that zoning laws changed, too, to prohibit professional offices in single family residences in the city because the only parking was on street. If so it would be more than a little ironic because in Dr. Foster’s practice, as he told my dad, a good number of his patients walked to the office.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your childhood recollections about your neighbors, Tom. Talking over the fence and retrieving a ball that landed in someone’s backyard (although in my son’s case, the neighbor’s’ dog bit him) — those are the type of memories I have cherished raising my kids and living in the same neighborhood for 45 years.

    • Thanks, Laurie. A few years back, prior to moving to my current residence, I lived in house with a postage stamp-sized lot. One of my neighbors was a young family – three boys between about 6 and 11 – and I was the neighbor greeting those boys when they came to retrieve errant kicks.

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