The Awards a Quiet Neighborhood Bestows

by Ken McAlpine

Yes our town is special, a desirable tourist destination, a place to see and the winner of many awards I can’t remember. It is an exceptional town, but it is the unexceptional that makes it chime. This is true where I live, and, no doubt, where you live too.

Now and again, my wife and I walk through our neighborhood. This is not an exceptional activity. It’s not even an exceptional neighborhood, at least if you haven’t walked through it countless times before.  But we have walked through our neighborhood for twenty-some years, which is how a neighborhood becomes yours, with homes and lives you come to know, and memories that make you smile, and some that make you sad.

Neighborhoods tell a story, and the pages rifle past like shuffled cards, so that, one moment, you are walking small boys to their first day of school, and the next they have left home. If you yourself are young, with small children yanking on your arm, you will think this is ridiculous and impossible. But if you have passed beyond a certain age, you know this is true.

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Neighborhoods tell a slower story too. The other night, as my wife and I walked through our neighborhood hand in hand — partly because there was an unseasonable chill in the air, but mostly because we like to hold hands — memories drifted from many of the homes. Most of them were happy, though not all, for neighborhoods are also microcosms of life. Here a couple divorced. Here a husband who walked away from his family and his life. Neighborhoods are filled with the mysteries of the heart. In our neighborhood, some pages have also stopped turning. Dolores, who lived next door, and used this proximity to stare unabashedly through our windows. Fred, who sat on a stool in his garage with the garage door up so that we spoke with him every morning as I walked our boys around the corner to their elementary school, Fred’s Louisiana drawl raspy from the throat cancer that would kill him. Life, and neighborhoods, are also like that.

Mostly, though, there is happiness. As my wife and I walk through the clear silvery night, the houses of our friends and neighbors smile out at us. Energetic Armeda, who once cared for her son, and now cares for his sons. The Andersons, whose daughter Kacy pranced to the first day of kindergarten beside our oldest son, and who is now a young woman. Jock, a retired elementary teacher and friend, who knew something of time’s passing long before we did. One afternoon after school Jock said to me, “Today a father told me he was tired of going to so many of his son’s soccer games. I said to him, ‘You know what? I’d give anything to sit at one of my son’s volleyball games again’.” Even then I understood Jock’s sad and wistful smile.

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Was a time I walked through our neighborhood several times a day. As a writer I have my own schedule. When our boys were young I walked them to their elementary school each morning, and each afternoon I walked them home. Late in the afternoon I would walk them back to the school, which was also home to the playground where we pretty much established residency. All the neighborhood kids played there. I’m not sure what they made of me, an (ostensibly) adult male who played soccer, and capture the flag, and tag, and, when forced to jump from the playground’s highest swinging bridges, sometimes took a long time getting up. When you are seven, your knees are spongy springs. Later, they are not.

Many of those playground kids are gone now – off to college, or military service, or different homes in different states — although now and again I see them, walking hand in hand with a girlfriend, or working as a waitress in a local restaurant, and they often have a smile and a kind word for me, the man who could never quite seem to catch them on that playground now filled with a new generation of shouting kids. Once, a great hulking form with facial hair came to our door, standing patiently on our door stoop until I recognized him. It made my week.

As I said, our neighborhood is unexceptionally exceptional.

This is award enough.

 

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