My family moved from a tenement apartment on The Boulevard in New Haven to a brand new ranch style house in the suburbs of East Haven, Connecticut during the summer before I started fourth grade. I would live there until I graduated from college and when someone asks, Where are you from? it’s that house I think of. Like most kids, I quickly made new friends and more or less forgot about the kids from the apartments. My parents, too, made new friends in the neighborhood. But several times a year, when they told us they were going out with The Neighbors, it wasn’t the people from the new neighborhood, it was their old friends from The Boulevard. This went on until my Mom passed away at 68, and after that my Dad would still reconnect with a few of The Neighbors. Occasionally we’d get dragged along to reunion picnics where we tried to act like we were still friends with kids we hadn’t seen in years. I never quite understood their attachment to the old neighbors when they had perfectly good new ones.
Last night, we went out for our annual Christmas dinner with The Neighbors, and just like my parents, they are old neighbors from our first house in Yorba Linda, CA. Muri and I had lived in apartments up until but it always seemed temporary … we had friends but they never became neighbors. There are four couples in our group within five or so years of each other in age. We have collectively 185 years of marriage between us. Rex and Bettie were our next door neighbors and we did everything from putting in our yards to raising our kids together. Ron and Linda lived down the street in one direction and were friends with Rex and Bettie. Annette and Ben live a few blocks down in the other direction … Muri met Annette in a Women’s Club they belonged to. We have been friends for (Yikes!) forty-two years. I now understand why when my parents said The Neighbors, it was the old neighbors. I think most couples have a place where their lives together really took root, the first place they called home, a place families grew beside other families. They are sacred places which makes The Neighbors from long ago unique friends. In the years since our kids have grown, we’ve all had interesting, mostly happy lives and we’ve all had struggles of one sort or another. Sometimes, we talk about getting together more often but it doesn’t seem to happen. But for one night at Christmas time, we get together and touch a very special time in our collective lives. It is the sort of thing that makes old friends … and the holiday season … special.