Thursday, April 09, 2009

Turtles Rising

Since tomorrow's the official start of the weekend - a holiday weekend for many - that makes today the eve of a long weekend, and for many the getaway day. As Friday's are usually slow days for serious stuff, to get in the holiday spirit, STL Rising will start things off with a low key story about some of the little day to day things that make neighborhood life special. The following is a story about one of our old neighbors we lived across the street from for about ten years.

There are a million different stories. I am reminded of our elderly neighbor, now deceased. She used to give our young son, then about 6-9 years old, baseball cards in little brown paper bags she’d dig out of her basement. Nothing of great collectible value, just a thoughtful gesture from her. Matt didn't know the difference, and at that age, he just liked getting the cards. Our neighbor was widowed by this time, and she sort of adopted us as her family across the street.

She had one daughter who lived down on the gulf shore, and another here in St. Louis. The local daughter lived in a home our neighbor owned over in the Lindenwood neighborhood. Years previously, the house was given to our neighbors by some old friends of theirs. The Lindenwood couple immigrated to the US from Europe and met our neighbors.

Our neighbors hosted a wedding party for the Lindenwood couple in their home over near Lindenwood Park. After the party, the couple left things the same in the house, and when they passed on, they willed the home to my neighbor, with decorations from the wedding party still up in the dining room.

Our neighbor friends never changed a thing, they never uncovered the furniture, anything. Then when her one daughter moved in the place, the place was more than she could handle, and it started to show the wear. My kind neighbor didn’t know what to do about her daughter's situation; she was just trying to help her.

Meanwhile, she mostly kept to her self in her little brick house with the old air conditioner installed by her husband back in the 1950s. She never went on vacation and wore old clothes. When she died, I learned she was worth close to $3,000,000. From as far as I can tell, it was all left to her two daughters and grandkids.

After her death, the house across the street remained vacant for years until the heirs finally sold it. In the intervening years, it too was starting to show the signs of being vacant for an extended period. Our neighbor would have been embarrassed about that. She and her husband had always kept the yard perfect and they kept pet turtles they would find on country drives and bring back home to St. Louis.

In the winter the turtles would burrow under the ground to hibernate. Every spring our neighbor would wait for them to dig themselves out from under the ground and start foraging around her yard. She could tell if they all came back because she painted little numbers on their shells with nail polish so she could tell them apart. She gave them all different names. "Oscar" was one of them. I wonder what ever happened to those turtles?

Anyhow, when we first moved in to the neighborhood, it was our neighbor who invited us to attend our first neighborhood association meeting. My wife later became president of the organization. That was back in the mid ‘90s. My wife, way more techie than me, started the neighborhood listserve. It operates to this day with hundreds of subscribers. Although our old neighbor never had a computer, I'm pretty sure she would be very happy about that.

The houses and old buildings in St. Louis are great, but it is the people and neighborhoods that make it really special. I think I would rather have a neighborhood with 10 percent vacant buildings and engaged residents working together, than a fully occupied neighborhood with little sense of community. In St. Louis, you can find that.

1 comment:

LisaS said...

Great story, Rick. we have a wealth of wonderful buildings here in St. Louis, but the people--and the animals--are truly what make our neighborhoods special. i wonder about the turtles too.