Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Best Neighbors

So I can honestly say that as a child I had the best neighbors. Now I don't say this lightly. I am sure you are all thinking how can she say that - that is such a broad statement. However, I can say it with a clear conscious. I grew up in the country. For the longest time our neighborhood was made up of four houses - each on no less than two acre parcels. Our neighborhood was not filled with children my age - it was the exact opposite, it was mostly adults. By adults I mean - when I was born the closest to me in age - and that was not relative by blood was 14 - which meant by the time I have memories of them they were all in college.

I grew up next to the Widmayer's--Richard and Loretta and their four daughters Ann, Jean, Sharon and Carol--which my family usually refers to as "the girls." For instance, "I'm going next door, 'the girls' are home." Or, the time my brother packed up all his diapers because he was going to live with "the girls." (Or as he pronounced it the ge-wal-els.)

When I say we had the best neighbors - it was because we didn't really treat each other like neighbors, it was more like extended family. When our birthdays approached my mom or dad would call over next door to plan the birthday party. Yes the entire neighborhood would come over for cake and ice cream. In fact most of my pictures from childhood are filled with the Widmayer girls standing behind me. And I can guarantee that most of their pictures have a small version of me, my sister and my brother in them somewhere.

For Example:
My 9th Birthday
My 6th Birthday
My 5th Birthday
My 4th Birthday
My 2nd Birthday

We would celebrate Christmas at Aunt Lena's house - which was right next door to Dick and Loretta's. It was like any other family celebration - we would eat snacks, dads would drink beer and we would open presents.

I remember each one of girls' weddings. I don't think we went to a lot of weddings growing up. But, I do remember going to their weddings at St. Mary's church and Emmanuel and then going to the Legion for the reception. It was fun when I finally got married, to share my wedding with Dick, Loretta, the Girls and now their children.

However, I remember Jean's wedding the most - mainly due to my brother's heartbreak. See Kevin had fallen madly in love with Jean around age 2. He wanted to move in with her so she could take him to Taco Bell. He loved everything about Jean. Then Jean met Marc - who Kevin tolerated with much disdain until that fateful day when Jean announced to Kevin that she was going to marry Marc. Kevin's small heart, age (I think) four - just broke. He now despised Marc for stealing Jean from him. He relunctantly was a ring bearer in the wedding - but it was all for Jean. He was a funny little kid. Thinking about it makes me giggle.

But most of my memories come from every day things. Like nearly every Saturday of my childhood (especially during the summer,) I would quickly get my chores done - so I could go next door. One could say it was a tactic to avoid doing more work at my house - and that would probably be correct. I would follow Loretta around - while she cleaned her house inside. Then I would follow Dick around outside while he tinkered in the barn. Then, some Saturdays we would go downstairs and watch the Michigan games. I am sure I was a pest, but they never seemed to mind me. Eventually the phone would ring requesting our presence back home or my dad would wander over to drink a Stroh's with Dick and of course to retrieve his children.

I never felt shy about wandering over. Maybe I should have - but Dick & Loretta are my Godparents - so I always felt that I had an extra connection. They made us all feel loved.

As I mentioned earlier - next door to Dick and Loretta was Aunt Lena. No she wasn't technically my Aunt - she was Dick's Aunt, but I called her Aunt Lena. She lived in a little white house with Dutch, her brother-in-law until he passed away. However, most of my childhood - she lived alone. I would go over to her house after school to play cards, mostly poker. She taught us all how to play five card draw. One of the best parts of visiting Aunt Lena was the snacks. She would always serve Pringles and pop. See, this was a big treat because at the Sahakian residence we were only allowed to have pop on Saturdays. I never mentioned this to Aunt Lena and even if she knew it didn't phase her. We would chat all afternoon, playing cards, eating chips, drinking pop and sometimes she would go into her bedroom and bring back a snickers bar. I am not sure why she kept them in there, but hey I always knew I was in for a treat when she walked to the back bedroom. Then it would be dinner time and despite being full from all the chips and pop, I would run home and eat dinner not to give away our secret.

I decided to write this because on January 29th, we lost Dick. He was very sick and his body just couldn't recover. It is really hard to think about our neighborhood without him. I went to the funeral home and the funeral - and I thought I had cried out all my tears - turns out as I am writing this I still have more. I shared my grief with Loretta, the girls and their families and of course my family - because we love them all like family.

Thinking about Dick - I will always remember him in the yard. He was always driving his tractor, fixing things in the barn or sitting in the lawn chair enjoying a Stroh's. When the cherries were ripe, I would run over and help them pick them off the tree (mainly I am sure I ate more than I picked.) He gave me many atta girls in my day - I also remember finding my place on his lap during birthday parties - especially when it came time to help him blow out his candles. I will also remember hearing his shotgun blast in his never ending war against the red squirrel. I think they got into his attic once - but I am not sure exactly why the war existed. I remember sitting in their basement - watching or listening to the Michigan football games while playing pool.

And when I think back to my childhood. I think back to how it was filled with so much love, from not only my blood relatives - but my neighbors. So as you can clearly see I have the best neighbors ever!


Anonymous said...

WOW, the memories and the story are wonderful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts

Paul Dingeman

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jennie, our little sister. We love you too. This meant a lot and the tears flowed while reading it.

Anonymous said...

What a great story (tears). Like I told you last Sunday, I always wished that someday I would have a relationship with my neighbors, like we did when we were growing up. We used to have a lot of fun and we definitely have many memories. Thanks for hanging with us last Sunday evening, I hope Tim wasn't too entertaining (just like old times). Maybe I should have waited for Kevin:)
Love, Jean

Anonymous said...

This rings so true. When we bought this land 35 years ago, we never realized that its greatest asset was the family that lived next door. Dick and Dad and their Saturday trips to the Dump with Tap Burgers, Aunt Lena and her poker, Dutch in his garden, Loretta driving the station wagon to the Jackson Kmart for a night out with Aunt Lena, the girls and us eating marked down sub sandwiches at closing. So many wonderful shared moments. Isn't life grand?
Love, Mom

Beach Bum said...

I felt like I knew him and his family by reading about your neighbors on your write well. Very sincere, genuine, caring, and loving. These neighbors of yours are the everyday heroes. I'm happy you have these memories and I'm sure they feel the same way about you!

Unknown said...

This made me cry. :) Thank-you so much Jennie, this meant so much to me and my mom.