A couple weeks ago, while participating in the TEDX talks in the Berkshires, I was able to listen to a local legislator who was singing a homage to the unique and special people of Berkshire Country. Those of us not from the neighborhood grumbled, “Hey, aren’t we special too?” The truth is that wherever we have planted ourselves, that place becomes the architecture and terrain of our lives. What are the emotional and physical landmarks that make your community home?
When I bought a house, 31 years ago, I purchased a sturdy structure on a plot of earth that looked gardenable, in a town that felt like a good place to raise up a child. I didn’t buy my neighbors, or their political, social, theological, or economic viewpoints. Having thought on it, I might have chosen completely like-minded people and never stretched an inch from my well-entrenched belief structure.
A single man in his 40’s, with a well-trimmed dark beard and a strong build lived across the street. His car, with the William Weld bumper sticker, was always so clean and shiny you could see my less well-kept home reflected in it. His bushes, though the same type as the others in the neighborhood, were rigorously trimmed and could have passed as topiary. A leaf never actually made it to the ground, as he seemed to sense them in flight and collected every one before they could foul the small, neat carpet of grass he cultivated. I felt sure that he scorned my free form bushes, weeds and much more chaotic style of nesting. However, this never got in the way of his warm daily greetings and authentic interactions with my son.
I was a single parent from the time the kid was born. Though this was my choice, it was not without challenges. When he was still under 6 months, I made a semi-panicked call to the pediatrician:
“He pulls on his penis so hard, like it’s a Mr. Gumby. Could he hurt himself?”
Once my doctor peeled himself off the floor, the result of immoderate laughter, he said:
“Judith, if it hurt, he’d let go.”
OK, there were challenges to not having a resident male.
Our neighbor, who I mentally referred to as Mr. Neat, would ask the kid about sports, a topic as distant to me as Mars. He taught him how to fix a slipped chain on his bike, hold and throw a football, follow through on his batting swing. One day we were running out to a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. We didn’t have too many formal occasions and although when he was little we simply had an adorable slip-on bow tie, he had aged out of this by 7. Now he was 12, and we found ourselves standing in the driveway, clumsily failing at a step-by-step instruction for tying his first real necktie. We were both getting cranky when the neighbor emerged, on his way out. He took one look, laughed, and came over. He stood behind my son and patiently instructed him, one move at a time, until the kid had created a perfect knot. Then they took it apart, and he did it again.
I started raking the leaves and pulling the weeds in the front of the house.
When he moved, there was a hole in our lives that we hadn’t known needed filling, and I thanked the creator for my fussy, Republican neighbor, one of many beings that makes an address a home.