Neighborhoods are so
much more than houses, lawns, fences and people. They are living time capsules of memories, journeys and relationships. They hold stories authored by their inhabitants who pass their pens to new generations. And the stories continue: similar storylines, different characters.
If you are very lucky, you get to live in a neighborhood like mine was — and still is: a place where neighbors are true friends who celebrate and mourn together, babysit, dog-sit, and chat over fences.
I moved into Queen Anne in 1987. Newly married with our first child on the way, we found a sweet, little home that we initially rented and later bought.
We were the youngest couple on our block, many of our neighbors being older couples or widows — people who had been in their homes for 40 years, whose kids had walked to school together and played on weekends. People who had socialized, gardened, gossiped and watched wistfully as grown children married and moved out.
In the few years following our arrival, it was not unusual for an ambulance or fire truck to pull up in the middle of the night. One by one, women buried their husbands and continued on as widows.
One night, sometime after our daughter had been born, I pulled up in front of my house and turned off the engine. The silence was so startling that I just sat for a moment to experience it in its rarity.
The houses were dark, most of our neighbors being early-to-bed folks. But then I noticed a light in a downstairs window across the
street and down a house or two.
The house was long past its remodel due date and was lived in by an elderly couple who kept mostly to themselves. The light, the only one on in the house, was an electric version of an old-fashioned oil lamp.
I felt that I was glimpsing the past and had a sense of being on a curve of time, on the cusp as my neighborhood transitioned to a new generation, a new time.
Gradually, the older ladies passed on or moved to assisted living. Young couples bought their homes, remodeling and updating them. I thought about what the neighborhood must have felt and looked like 40 or 50 years ago, and even earlier than that. Our house was built in 1906, so there were many stories held in its walls.
Workers digging in our backyard during the initial stage of our addition unearthed a cobalt-blue glass bottle with raised letters that said “bromo-seltzer.”
“Whose was that?” I wondered.
Who lived here and dropped a bottle back there? Did they buy it from Salladay’s Pharmacy? Did Salladay’s exist back then?
I was mesmerized thinking of all that had happened on this block.
Inevitably, our neighborhood transitioned to a new generation. Houses were updated; children were born. My daughters, a little older now, babysat for these children. Friendships grew, neighbors brought home puppies and kittens, kids started school.
It was not unusual for us to gather at one or another’s home or even just out on the sidewalk on summer nights — wine glass in hand, kids playing, dogs running around.
Friends around the corner organized a block party every summer and a caroling party every winter, expanding the relationships and adding to the stories.
But the glue that holds us together still is Tuesday Taco Night on Wednesday.
Every few months, an e-mail circulates, calling all neighbors to the midweek gathering that was on Tuesdays, until one month it switched to Wednesday and thereafter was called Tuesday Taco Night on Wednesday.
The neighbors who host Taco Night have created a hub, a place for all of us to visit and catch up, share food, play music.
The gathering has grown with the neighborhood, and the house is noisily packed with a crowd of friends whose ages range from newborns to seniors. It is a true amalgam of generations: a reflection of all that has passed through our little block over the years.
I wonder what the folks did back in the ‘50s. Were there cocktail parties like you see in the movies, the women with teased hair wearing circa-June Cleaver dresses, nylons and heels; men sporting thin ties, crew cuts and dark-framed glasses?
I do know that the ladies on my block were friends because I would see them knocking on one another’s doors and would occasionally be invited to their tea parties.
“Bring the baby!” they would implore when they heard I was invited. They were looking back; I was looking forward. But we were on the same point in time, just seeing a slightly different angle of the continuum.
Our neighborhood is a special place. Neighborhoods provide accessibility to neighbors and, because of its age, a connection to its history. I imagine there are many similar experiences in Seattle, a city made up of small-town-like neighborhoods.
But I wonder how many neighborhoods have Taco Tuesday on Wednesday. Speaking of which, neighbors (you know who you are), aren’t we due?
IRENE HOPKINS now lives on a sailboat in Ballard, which has given her a new perspective on… everything.