The Neighbors

When I grew up, people knew their neighbors. I was a baby boomer, and the neighborhood was crammed full of kids. We played outside, we played inside. We cut through each others’ yards, something most people wouldn’t dream of doing anymore.

On one side of my house lived Gladys and Bill. If they had children, they were long gone. The couple was Canadian. I’m not sure why they lived on the Michigan side of the St. Marys River, but they were our neighbors for many years. Gladys had a lovely garden in the back yard, and their house was neat as a pin, inside and out. I remember one spring, a little girl from across the alley picked every single one of Gladys’s red and yellow tulips and took them home to her mother. She was chastened by her horrified mother and made to go back across the alley and apologize to Gladys who took it pretty well actually.

Directly across the alley was the family of a local policeman. He was a mountain of a man, and his wife, a French war bride, was a little bit of a thing. They had three children that my mother babysat from time to time. The youngest boy was a handful. My mother once caught him pitching eggs across the kitchen.

Next door to that family was a Greek family with one boy who was a great friend of my brother. My mother often chatted with the mom over the back fence. I remember a story my mom told about this lady. As they chatted one day, the woman said with a sigh, “When I married Mr. Melonas I thought he was a Greek god. Now he’s just a goddamn Greek.” My mother always giggled when she told the story.

Next door to the Greek family was a tiny house that belonged to my friend’s family. There were five kids in that house. Over the years, the dad added on to the upstairs and created a lot of built-ins for storage. They lifted the little house and put a basement under it when I was small. There was a huge pile of earth and clay in the yard for a long time. We kids had a lot of fun and got filthy playing on that pile. Next door to their house was their grandparents home. Their grandmother was the neighborhood grandma. We all loved her and the beautiful collection of tea cups which we admired in her china cupboard.

Next to my house on the south side was a family of seven kids. It wasn’t unusual to come out in the spring and find the mother with a swelling belly. We all played together and shared colds, measles, mumps and chicken pox.

The house next to their house belonged to a family of Baptists. In the summer they conducted vacation Bible school in their garage. I begged my mother to let me go. She didn’t want to let me because we were Catholic, but eventually she gave in, made me put a dress on and let me go. I really didn’t care about the lessons. All I was interested in was the cookies and milk and being included.

In the house next to the Baptists lived a family of Methodists. The dad was also a policeman. The lady of the house and the mom next to us spent a lot of time in our kitchen gossiping and drinking tea. My mother set off a neighborhood war when she blew up one day and alienated the other two ladies. We didn’t have much, and she resented supplying them with their daily tea and never getting much done while they were there. Poor Mom didn’t know how to handle those kinds of situations. It created a lot of ill will for many years.

These were some of the people who populated my world as a small girl. Some of them moved out of the neighborhood over the years and some were still there long after I left home.

Cris Roll

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