NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – “I feel so sorry for your children, they will never have the memories of living in a neighborhood,” my mother announced as she and I were taking an afternoon walk.
I stopped walking and stared at my mother in total disbelief. My husband, my 3-year-old son Brian, and I had recently moved into the house we started building a little over a year before. We were thrilled to have moved into a two-story home in what realtors called the beautiful St. John’s Prep area in Danvers.
“Don’t you think my children will make their own memories here?” I asked Mom.
“Yes, but it won’t be the same,” she answered sadly.
I’ve played that conversation over and over in my mind and each time it brings me back to Mattapan and our neighborhood of triple-decker houses filled with Jewish families. Nice weather brought people out to the front porch, waving and talking to folks on either side. That porch gave us a view of our small world, and that was good.
The back porch was where Mom hung laundry. So did other neighbors. In between removing a clothespin from her mouth, my mother would engage in conversation with other laundry-hanging neighbors. You could always tell if someone had company staying over by the sheets. If there was a new baby, or changes in the weather, the clue was hanging on the clothesline.
Though everyone was called Mr. and Mrs., if you were lucky like I was, you would have another family that always made you feel welcome. I had Auntie Elise and Uncle Saul living in an apartment across the street. It was my second home. The one thing I couldn’t quite figure out was why they were my aunt and uncle and not my brother’s and why their older children always referred to my mother and father as Mr. and Mrs. Liftman. It took quite a few years to get this relationship straight but since it worked for me, I didn’t want to rock the boat, even if it meant going to the fish market to get heads and entrails for Jimmy, the cat that hated me.
I remember the time I was trying out the roller skates that went over my shoes, a birthday present from Auntie Elise and Uncle Saul. I fell on the sidewalk and broke my leg; I never saw those skates again. But, since my father was working and my mother didn’t drive, my middle floor neighbor insisted her husband take us to Boston City Hospital as soon as he came home from work. That’s just what good neighbors did.
When I think back, I remember other things the neighborhood offered. We never lacked for friends. There was always a little girl around to play jacks and do spool knitting together when dad hammered four nails into the top of a used-up spool of thread. We played hopscotch, jumped rope, and even played baseball against the front stairs.
When televisions were just beginning to be popular, we kids watched Milton Berle at the first floor neighbor’s house next door. His 7-inch screen had a magnifying glass in front of it and he placed the TV in such a way with the window open so we could watch from his porch.
Yes, there are many memories, some great and some embarrassing. Going out on a date meant lots of eyes staring at the young man to see if he met the neighborhood’s (unwritten) criteria. Then there were the times you would be saying goodbye to your date in the downstairs hall when the college boy neighbor from the middle floor came home. Embarrassed, he would take those stairs two at a time.
Yes, those neighborhood days made for wonderful memories, but what my mother did not get to see were some of our children’s memories. They (and we) had a lifelong relationship with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bob, neighbors who became our best friends. When Brian passed away, our neighbors showed up for support. When my husband died, neighbors were there for my son, Matt, and me once again.
My neighbors watch out for me. If they don’t see me for a while, I get calls. My neighbor Maria called to check on me when she saw the light on in the cellar late at night. I feel very fortunate.
People often ask me when I’m going to sell my house and move into something smaller. I’ve thought about it, but that’s as far as I get. I really don’t want to leave my neighborhood.