Poor Mr. Old Bone. The man worked hard his whole life, building and running a small dairy company. In his final years, all he wanted was a bit of peace. Unfortunately for him, fate sent in a family of six to live next door—my family.
Things were never particularly warm between our two Braeswood-area households, but one of my earliest memories is of the day relations turned positively chilly. I had two older brothers and one younger. It was the little one, about five at the time, who got it into his head to remove a carton of eggs from the fridge, amble over to the house belonging to Mr. Old Bone—I won’t reveal his name out of respect for the deceased, but we really did call him that—and crack them over his front door. I know. My mom made him clean it up, but the damage was done.
Things only got worse as we grew older. Our house became something of an area attraction, with its teenage-man-cave garage apartment, huge halfpipe skate ramp and double driveway used not for parking cars but for playing basketball. During the boys’ raucous pickup games, balls always flew over the fence separating our house from Mr. Old Bone’s.
Reasonably, perhaps, he did not wish to hear basketballs bouncing late into the evening, nor did he want teenage boys streaming across his front lawn to the backyard entrance to retrieve them. He made his feelings known to my parents via frequent phone calls—which, despite their admonitions and imposition of curfews, achieved little. So the calls continued, until finally one day, in a moment of frustration, my dad said, “Look, how would you like to live with the little bastards?”
The comment bred new respect for my dad in Mr. Old Bone. But the feeling was not mutual, especially after the curmudgeon called to complain about one of my brothers’ friends—“a black boy,” he kept repeating—who’d had the audacity to skateboard on his front sidewalk. It was then that my entire family came to view that long-ago egging as a heroic act.
Of course, there was only one Mr. Old Bone on my old block, and it would be a crime to allow him—or my stinky brothers, for that matter—to overshadow the other residents. There was also the Spanish artist across the street, who gave me art lessons, coffee, cookies and castoff jewelry, and scolded me for going barefoot. There was the agoraphobic professor’s wife, who spent her days tending her roses, lighting candles for her brother (who’d been killed in Vietnam), and chain-smoking; I adored her.
There was the octogenarian, whose formal sitting room I liked to visit, chatting quietly and sucking on candies from her glass coffee-table bowl. And there were the four older, gorgeous, impossibly cool sisters we called The Girls, who sometimes let me hang around when they did important things like choreograph dances.
All of these women are gone now, moved away or passed away. Even their houses are gone, thanks to Tropical Storm Allison. But as an antidote to my hypermasculine siblings—and a counterpoint to Mr. Old Bone—they’ll forever be the community that shaped me. There’s a word for that: neighbors.