Good neighbors are like family.....
By Kevin Ann Reinhart (nee: Eby)
Kevin Ann Reinhart, mother of two, is a former teacher-librarian.
Knock knock knock. "Janie, Margie and Frannie!"
Two little girls stood expectantly at the side door of a two-storey
red-bricked house just across the street from their own white bungalow.
It had become habit to call out the names of the friends they wished
to summon. There were 11 children within, but only three with whom
the sisters played.
"Janie, Marg, Fran - you're wanted at the door."
The call went out within the house and the three joined the two
little girls outside.
"Whaddaya feel like playin' today?"
"Let's go fix the sidewalk. There are some pretty big holes over
by Mrs. Dopp's"
"Fixing the sidewalk" required a large rock each and several smaller
pebbles. "Cement" was fashioned by pounding the smaller stones into
dust and adding a bit of water obtained from the garden hose and
carried to the repair site in sandbox pails requisitioned for the
job. Sidewalk maintenance was taken very seriously by the group.
They were hard at it when four more girls, representing three other
families from "down the hill," arrived to join the maintenance crew.
Mary Pat, myself, Barbie, Audrey, Mary, Sandie, Margie and Fran
all pitched in to ensure that the tiny holes in our neighborhood
walks were properly filled. This was a never-ending project as the
first rain would quickly dissolve our stone dust cement and carry
it away in swirling rivulets.
Fixing the sidewalk was a perfect summer pastime. When all other
play ideas had been discarded and the inevitable boredom of late
summer set in, repairing our walkways remained a reliable time filler.
In those childhood years of the late 1950s, time was measured more
by the events of the day than by the hands of a clock. Playtime
was bounded by the interruptions of breakfast, lunch, dinner and
bed. As we grew, home chores and school requirements also encroached
upon our freedom. Through it all there were always pieces of each
day, which we could call our own.
Summer also meant fort building, salamander hunts, hikes to the
empty little red schoolhouse and the ever-present possibility of
a call to a game of scrub baseball. Fall would find us buried in
the technicolor foliage we'd rake into mounds and hide or jump or
burrow within. Winter snow blanketed tobogganing runs in two separate
backyard locations while ice rinks and snow forts were constantly
in use or under construction. The puddles of spring and a swollen
creek surging through the nearby city-owned woodlot guaranteed at
least one soaker among us each day.
We reveled in the out-to-doors and returned home reluctantly when
summoned with three blasts from mom's whistle: "Come in when the
street lights come on."
We thought our friends' family of 11 children was large. I realize
now that we all belonged to one even bigger - the neighborhood family.
Much of the social life of our parents involved interaction with
others on the street. Rare idle moments were filled with front porch
chatter at one house or another. If supplies from milkman, bread
man or corner grocer provided inadequate at meal preparation or
baking times, a quick trip to the neighbor's with a note or verbal
request would rectify the situation. Even the littlest among us
could be successfully dispatched on these errands.
The closeness of children at play is not unusual. Adults often
become acquainted because of the relationships formed between their
children. As the youngsters grow, separations occur and new bonds
are formed beyond the neighborhood. People move away and relationships
This natural separation did not seem to affect our neighborhood.
We are all grown now with children of our own. Stories are shared
with a new generation, which finds the concept of neighbor to be
very different from the one we knew.
Our parents remain in the neighborhood where we were raised. After
42 years, the informal front-porch visits have evolved into a regularly
scheduled "neighborhood club" gathering at a local restaurant and
a subsequent social in each other's homes. News of children and
grandchildren is shared. Communication is maintained.
Recently I attended the funeral of Jane, Marg and Fran's mother.
The gathering was a large one. Immediate family and friends were
joined by neighborhood club members and their offspring to form
a huge group. Fran had kept my mother informed as her mom's condition
worsened. The cancer she battled had precluded Fran's mother's attendance
at the neighborhood gab sessions she so enjoyed.
So after her mom passed away, Fran crossed the street to bring
the sad news of her death to my mother and, through her, to the
remaining charter members of the neighborhood club.
Custom and funeral home courtesy meant I would make a visit to
pay my respects and my friends would thank me for coming. A heartfelt
hug, memories shared and an opportunity to visit at the post-funeral
reception would better represent my reason for attendance. There
was no way I could not be there. There had been, after all, a death
in my family.
Kevin Ann Reinhart was born and raised in the Jackson Avenue-Fairmount
Road area of Kitchener, lived in Kingston as a teacher-librarian
and returned to Kitchener 10 years ago. She wrote this story as
a tribute to Gertrude (Cooper) Paleczny, who died in November 1993.