Mr. Rogers was right– there is something beautiful about an old city neighborhood. Fifteen years ago, fate led me to my neighborhood. Built in the 1920’s, it consists of houses and yards in all shapes and sizes, in various states of repair and improvement. There are houses without attached garages, walk-in closets, or easy-to-clean removable windows. But what our houses lack in great rooms or eat-in kitchens, we make up for with a welcoming front stoop and a yearly block party.
I believe in the interdependence of neighbors who tend to each other. There are big kids who walk the smaller ones to school, loaded with backpacks and lunchboxes, traversing uneven sidewalks. I know that our neighbors’ collective eyes follow them and, more importantly, the kids know it too. There are the neighbors who could be counted on to take my kids when I went into labor, the empty nesters who host cocktail (and tea) parties, the teenage lawn mowers, and the adolescent dog-walkers.
In difficult times, the neighborhood is a source of special strength. One resident is a nurse who can be consulted to determine if a fall from the swing really does require an x-ray. There are extra sets of hands for changing a flat tire or uncorking a bottle of wine after a long, difficult day. When the block’s matriarch battled cancer, the neighbors rallied with meals and company. And when the battle was lost, the block mourned together. Having spent forty years on the block, she is still present to all, especially when the outfit changes on her ceramic goose (still perched on the front stoop) or her cherished flowers bloom.
I believe that part of why my neighborhood survives when residents could so easily relocate to houses elsewhere with newer plumbing and attached spacious garages, is that each neighbor finds something that he or she needs on our block. I believe that in a time when so much emphasis is placed upon what divides us, my neighborhood epitomizes when connects us: the daily routine, care and concern for our fellow person, hospitality, extra smiles for a beautiful day, and shoulders to lean on for a not-so beautiful day. We share the sense that imperfect sidewalks and tiny closets belie a certain perfection, the recognition that we all do better individually when we take care of our neighbors. That is why I believe in the beauty and unifying power of my old city neighborhood.