Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I never saw this Elaine dance

When Tom and I bought our first house, we bought it for it's proximity to two cities. We were both working in Wilmington at the time, and he had visions of working in Philly again. The house was older and small, but pristine, and tucked at the end of a small dead end road with just five other homes.

It was quiet, so quiet. Everyone kept to themselves, in their neat little homes and their manicured little yards. I wasn't expecting to find a new best friend but Tom and I both wanted to at least meet our new neighbors. The second week we were there I made up Halloween candy bags for each of the families and Tom and I walked them around. We met the elderly couple across the street, the Korean family next door who were warm and welcoming in spite of our language barrier, and the young couple with a new baby.

The most interesting "couple" was at the other end of the street. They weren't a couple at all it turns out, but sister and brother, living in the home their parents had left them. They were both retired, from what I am not sure, but they were lively characters. She was Elaine, and she knew everything about us already; that we both worked, what we drove, what we had paid for our house, what the previous owners had paid years before, where they went and what they paid for their new house. She had a shrill, loud voice and crazy drawn on eyebrows, but she was friendly and obviously dying for company. Her house was at the entrance to the road, and her chair was parked in the big front window. She kept tabs on everyone and filled us in on the other neighbors comings and goings. I soon realized she was far better than any organized neighborhood watch. She introduced us to her brother Henry, who was watching four different TV's at once, all circa 1975, and at full volume. He was friendly enough, and Tom was able to discern somehow above the TV chaos that he liked to work odd jobs and was a junk collector and reseller. Elaine said we were the first neighbors to ever come for a visit and told us she was happy we were there.

In the weeks to follow, I would often come home from work to find little offerings from Elaine in the unlocked screened porch of our new home. It started with a bag of apples, then magazines and old books she was finished with, other fruit and cheese her brother got from his friend who owned a produce stand. I knew they were from Elaine because early on she waved an apple at me and pointed one day as I rode by. I stopped by to thank her and she seemed embarrassed by it, saying it was more than she and Henry could use anyway. Tom thought it was weird but I always kind of looked forward to her surprises. I left things for her too; tins of homemade cookies with her name on them, a loaf of homemade bread, a poinsettia, a pot of mums. It was our silent neighboring ritual. We almost never actually saw each other. She was busy with her old lady schedule of doctors appointments and church and neighbor surveillance. I was busy with work and socializing and shopping in my still kid-free with lots of disposable income schedule. I felt looked after and it also felt good to be able to reciprocate, even unseen.

We didn't live there long when we decided we wanted to take advantage of the rocketing surge in home prices in that area and the cheap mortgage rates in the nation (four years ago now). We found a neighborhood in another county of big new homes with huge lots and friendly prices. We put our house on the market and it sold in one day, for alot more than we paid for it. It all happened so fast that I didn't get a chance to talk to Elaine. I later learned she was miffed at not being the first to know, and she was even heard to snort about what we were asking (and got) for our house. I always felt like I failed her. Elaine, who prided herself on knowing what was happening on her street.

We never caught up with her in the quick weeks before we moved. Tom recognized Henry at a street fair a few summers back and chatted him up, but I doubt Henry remembered us. He did say Elaine was fine. Sometimes I want to ride up there and say hello and bring her some cookies and show her our boys and ask how things are on the street. But something keeps stopping me. I think I am afraid of finding out that Elaine is gone. The weird thing is, as quirky as she and Henry were, they were probably the nicest neighbors we ever had.


MrsGrumpy said...

That is a beautiful story. I would be afraid too, to find out that someone who was always there no longer is. I am very lucky, especially at this point to have neighbors who watch over me and our children. My husband and I put our house on the market last year (the happy home selling window had already closed here) and I am so glad, in hindsight, that it didn't work out. Although...to blab on and take up your comments section...I sometimes feel as if I don't belong anymore. Thank you for sharing that engaging and wonderfully written story with us. It is something I think you should submit, perhaps to one of the "home type" magazines. I loved it.

Binky said...

Quirky is good. My neighbors have always been downright insane.

Marsha said...

I agree with Laura, wonderful post you should submit it for a magazine.

Michele said...

Wow, thanks for the feedback! I do think I am going to try to go up and see Elaine some day soon.

Sharpie said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAYYYYYYYYYY - Crapcakes I'm late to the party as usual!!!!