Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sunrise, Sunset

We have been most fortunate with our neighbors. When we moved into our house in 1969 there were a number of elder statesman on the block. There was Mrs. Connors, who became a frequent guest for holiday meals and a good friend, together with her son John. There were the Courts, who every year sent an invitation summoning the block to a New Year Open House at “The Court House.” Then there were the O’Neills, who lived next door at 812. They were already advanced in age when we met them. Mr. O’Neill had retired from the tractor division at Ford, where he had on one occasion at least chauffeured the “old man.” Mrs. O’Neill had graduated from what was then Michigan Normal College and had spent part of her life teaching in Detroit’s Guyton School. They kept active in their retirement: he drove for the Red Cross Blood Bank and she worked with a number of auxiliaries. They always ran their errands together and I loved to watch how she stood by the back door, stooping occasionally to remove a stray weed from the flower bed, while he opened the garage and backed down the ten or twelve feet to the door to pick her up.

There must have been times when our five noisy children annoyed them, but Mr. and Mrs. O’Neill never complained. (And it was always Mr. and Mrs. O’Neill—none of this Jim and Ella Mae nonsense for them.) In summer, Mrs. O’Neill would invite the children and me over for tea on her back porch. At Halloween there was always a special treat at the O’Neills. We got to know their sons, Mike, Paul, Tom and Fr. John. We got to meet their grandchildren. They were the most uncritical of neighbors. Once in a while you could see Mr. O’Neill glance at our shaggy front lawn, but he never said a word, even though he was a stickler for neatness and order. This magnolia tree of theirs, which is still going strong, was anathema to him. Every April he would patrol his front yard with a spiked stick, picking up the petals as they fell.

The O’Neills were substitute grandparents for five children whose own grandparents lived far away. As the kids got older, we encouraged them to lend our elderly neighbors a hand until they automatically ran over with a rake in the fall or with a shovel when the snow covered the front walk or the driveway. It was a sad day when Mr. O’Neill died and when Mrs. O’Neill too died, it was the end of an era.

I have thought about them a lot lately. This winter, when the driveway was full of snow, our neighbor on the other side, Dave, used his snow blower to make sure we could get out. The neighbors in the O’Neill's house snuck over with shovels and brooms to make sure the front walk was cleared. Jared is learning from his parents, Tim and Michelle, the same lesson we tried to teach our children.

And us? The seasons have followed one another. Happiness? Sure. Tears? Of course. I don’t remember growing older, but we are now the old folks on the block.

5 comments:

candyschultz said...

No Beryl you are definitely not alone. I have waited 24 years to attempt cathedral window and it turns out to be incredibly easy. You can do everything by hand also.

maestrocc said...

One of your best!

cezzeddine said...

I've been meaning to post this comment for some time now...

Mrs. Ament: this post is so touching! I really enjoyed it!

I'm living on the same street on which I grew up and my parents are still here as well...they're 11 houses down. I enjoy seeing what stays the same and what changes on our street.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mrs. Ament,
I don't know where my brother found your blog, but it was fabulous to read what you wrote about Granny and Granddad. I am their son Mike's youngest daughter and have such fond memories of you and your family. I remember that your kitchen window overlooked the driveway, so we could wave at you as we left for church. And one summer I seem to remember something of a ski slope in your back yard. I hope your family is all doing well. My uncle Paul and his wife died a few years back, but my dad and his two other brother are still well and doing fine.

Love to all,
Kathryn O'Neill

Beryl Ament said...

Kathryn, it was lovely to hear from you. I, too, remember your summer visits.

By a strange twist of fate Tim has a son on the same baseball team as the son of the current owners of 812 and we got to talk to him at a graduation party for Jared's sister. That's how he learned of this post.

We are fine and the family is thriving. I hope all is going well for you.