Archive for the ‘neighbors’ Category

In celebration of friendship

Browsing through letters from my early years in California, I am struck by how often new names crop up: work colleagues of Tony’s who invited us to their homes, families we met at a playground or children’s event, neighbors. I realize now that my parents often had no idea who I was talking about. It didn’t matter. Having no family nearby, our new friends loomed large in our lives. We did our best to reciprocate, but it never felt like enough. Here are some examples from early 1970, when we were moving from the apartment complex into our new house:

Feb. 2, 1970
The chaos is gradually dying down here. We moved in a week ago on Sunday, but don’t think we could have done it without our incredibly good friends. Al & Jim provided manpower & car to help with the furniture, while Judi & Margie not only took care of the kids, but provided meals for everybody all day. And this with Judi pregnant and nauseous, & David running a temp. of 103°.  … I have not been too well this week either… Again, Margie came to the rescue, & had David & Simon over there while I cleaned the apartment …

 I am having Margie’s kids tomorrow while she takes visiting family to Monterey for the day…

 Feb. 15, 1970
Several of my new neighbours gave a coffee morning for me on Friday – very pleasant,  though naturally a little stiff & formal – but it is nice to be formally introduced to people. Then this afternoon the husband of one of the women I met came over & made himself known to Tony, which was rather nice. And of course, my old friends from the apartments have been dropping in.

 Feb. 28, 1970
Between downpours I have been digging a hole to plant a young live oak that the Gaubatz’s have given us – some bird or squirrel planted it in their yard, but now it has to go to make way for an extension to their house. It is a lovely specimen, so I hope it survives the move. We were up there last weekend also, & Don G. showered us with all sorts of bits for the garden – calendula seedlings, shasta daisies, calla lilies, violets, artichokes, and thornless blackberry. In return we are giving them a pair of podocarpus trees that look very stiff by our front door, and a half-starved rhododendron that someone planted too close to its fellows.

 Practically all the people we met in Silicon Valley were immigrants, either from other countries or other states of the US, all of us heady with the intellectual ferment of the new technologies, all of us just another foreigner among the many. What mattered was that we took care of each other, respected our differences, and learned from each other. Some of these friendships have lasted for decades, even through moves to other towns and changes in life situations.

In these troubled times, it feels important to celebrate the values of friendship and caring. Thank you, all my dear friends.

The shapes of family

I still remember the tongue-lashing my teenage cousin and I received when we defended our widowed grandmother’s decision to file for divorce from her second husband. If the two of them couldn’t get along, we saw no reason why they should have to stay together. Mothers and aunts rounded on us. We didn’t know what we were talking about, they scolded. Grandma was a disgrace to the family. The Mother’s Union of our Anglican Church was going to throw her out, and her daughters were ashamed to show their faces in town.

Tauranga, New Zealand, was a tightly traditional little town in the 1940s and 50s, when I was growing up. Fathers worked, mothers stayed home with children. I didn’t know any single parent families. If there were divorcees, they were invisible. So were lesbians and gays.

kids on climbing frame

Neighborhood kids on the climbing frame in our yard.

My social environment in England was almost as sheltered. My friends were other young marrieds with small children. Our close of new row houses was filled with intact families like ours.

When we moved to Cupertino, CA in 1967, we lived in a complex of townhouse apartments. Each apartment had a 20 ft. by 10 ft. fenced yard. Our yard was filled with a climbing tower, a sand box, sundry tricycles, pushcarts, and other paraphernalia to keep our two small boys entertained.  The neighbors helped open my eyes to other family structures: single parents, grandparents raising kids, abusive relationships.

The memory of my grandmother’s divorce comes back to me as I read a letter to my parents. After thanking them for our two-year-old’s birthday gift, I wrote:

 

Our children's easel

The easel Tony built for our children.

17 Nov. 1967
Simon had a lovely little birthday party – a lunch for three little friends – after school the apartment is invaded with older kids, which would have caused problems. We seem to run a regular play centre here, what with the climbing tower and sandbox, and the new easel, with apparently unlimited supply of crayons & paper. However, the opportunities for recreation are so limited in these apartments, and so many of these kids from broken or otherwise mixed-up homes, that I guess its our contribution to the community.

There’s a self-righteousness tone to this comment, an indication of my awakening to the variety of household shapes in this new environment. A hint of defiance too. I wonder, was I getting back at my mother and aunts for their dismissal of my grandmother’s decision so many years ago?

A sisterhood of neighbors

Charlotte Russe. Image from http://www.bettycrocker.com/

Would she be able to watch my toddler for an afternoon while I went to a doctor’s appointment, I asked Margaret, my next-door neighbor in the block of new row houses we’d both recently moved into in 1965. An odd look came over her face, and a blush reddened her cheeks. A pause. “Actually, I have a doctor’s appointment that afternoon too.” Another pause. I don’t remember which of us said it first: “I think I’m pregnant again.”

An easy solution: we went to our appointments together, to the same doctor, taking turns to supervise our infants (her daughter only three days younger than my son) in the waiting room.  Our second children were born within two weeks of each other. Another neighbor, Jo, took care of our two-year-old then, while my husband was at work. When Jo had another baby the following year, it was I who minded her two little girls.

Not having family in England to call on for help, I am forever grateful to this sisterhood of neighbors. Most of the women in our little close of twenty houses were stay-at-home mums with small children. We drank coffee together in the mornings and shared how our brains were turning to mush. Our children ran in and out of each other’s houses. We took care of each other.

Prawn Cocktail. Image from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com

On the back pages of my English cookbook are two recipes, one for a Charlotte Russe from Margaret and a prawn cocktail  from Jo, both classic 1960s recipes. I remember the occasion vividly. My husband Tony had accepted a position in California. We were waiting for our US green cards to come through –a nerve-wracking saga that I’ll write about sometime. Meanwhile, his prospective new boss was passing through on his way home to Denmark for Easter, and wanted to meet Tony. A dinner invitation was obviously required. But what to serve? In a panic, I turned to my sister-neighbors. They held my hand and helped me through planning a menu. Prawn cocktail to start, and Charlotte Russe for dessert. For the main course I probably served roast lamb, a traditional New Zealand staple.

The dinner was a success, though I suspect that the Danish boss, having gotten used to casual Californian ways, was a bit overwhelmed by the formality of it. But he was very gracious, and we had a pleasant evening. I couldn’t wait to share how it went with my neighbors the next morning.

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