Sunday, June 19, 2016

What a Neighborhood Knows

When you walk twice a day taking more or less the same route for six months and through two seasons, you notice a lot. You notice the new coat of paint on a garage door. You notice the deepening greens of the foliage, and of course you notice the spring and summer flowers. You notice the children, and which houses they belong to, or more properly which houses belong to them. You notice the two older men, neighbors who are also pals. They meet every day between three and four o'clock to stroll and update each other on the news, which there's never much of. (They talk a lot about the state of their yards.) You notice the runners, each one with a distinctive gait and speed. You notice the indoor pets gazing longingly out of windows.

Certain folks smile at you, and sometimes say hello. Others do not - no matter. A few people, a very few, eye you with suspicion, and each time you are surprised to encounter an outlook on life that is so defensive; then you think to wonder what unpleasant life circumstances led them to such defensiveness, and in the wondering you gain compassion.

On one humid evening in June you are walking when a gaggle of teenage girls bursts out of the exit to the community pool and half-walks, half-runs to the house of one girl you peg as the birthday girl. The next morning, when you are walking in the other direction, two or three of the same girls are being picked up by their parents, and you see that your guess was an accurate one: slumber party. Do they still call it that? "No Cheetos in the back seat; you will RUIN my car," implores a mom.

For a person who loves other people's tales, walking in a neighborhood is quietly fulfilling. Stories float down the stairs of all the houses and escape through windows or doors. They very nearly introduce themselves in their eagerness to be known.

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I am glad that the landscape changes incrementally day by day on my route. Otherwise I might grow bored of the circuit I walk. But yesterday, a little boy of no more than four years old beamed at me and thrust toward me his new toy, a water gun. He waited until I complimented the toy, and once I did he looked so proud. And a week or two ago, an elderly woman using a walker was approaching me ever so slowly when she stopped, waved her arm high, and cried, "Keep it up!" I wasn't entirely sure whether she was talking to me or to herself, but I smiled and waved back. I will keep it up, I will.

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