No Fences

gated (1)Seen from the air, the Florida development where my sister used to live reveals a pattern of houses that seem to pose like a group of ladies in white flanked by rectangles of turquoise: the in-ground pools that accessorize them like bright costume jewelry.

These homes have small windows in the street-facing walls meant to ensure privacy and keep out heat. Access to them is gained chiefly through attached garages, which yawn open on command, admit a car, and then shut again, tighter than a bulldog’s jaws.

The development has fancy stone gates out front and a Homeowners Association that pays visits to any families not conforming to the association’s ‘aesthetics’. One family, newly arrived from the other side of the globe, thought it would be okay to hang their laundry inside their open garage. It wasn’t, as they were quickly advised.

I couldn’t live in a place like that for a week.

When I was just starting out in adult life I lived in a series of cramped and shuddery walk-ups in Boston and Cambridge. Then after marrying, my husband and I moved to the city of Somerville, back when Somerville was just a regular town and not the trendy burg it has since become. 

Housing aerial Somerville, MA
Housing aerial Somerville, MA

There we lived happily and unselfconsciously – until the day a friend told us what she had just said in the car on the way to our place: “Lock your doors, kids. This is Somerville.”

For years I seethed over that remark and when we bought our own house farther out from these cities, I vowed I would never be like that. I took comfort in the fact that we were just five miles away from the close-packed streets we had known. Here, we live less than 200 yards from the commuter rail, less than a third of a mile from the public beach of a little lake to which people from Cambridge and Somerville and even Boston come to swim, and grill, and enjoy their kids.

On fine days, people from half a dozen other suburban towns pass outside our windows and sometimes even pick a few blooms from our hydrangea trees. I can hear their every conversation and I am glad I can. I like to feel the press of people and sense the larger community of which I am a part. And I pray I will never cringe from people I do not know, or choose not to open the door to some hardworking person with a clipboard or a Bible.

Late last summer, an out-of-town friend came by and, after having a nice visit with us, set out to look around our Town Center. Confused, she went right instead of left at the end of our street.

“I knew I’d made a mistake when I came to the beach with all the Mexicans,” she said upon returning.

Mexicans?!” I wanted to say. “The people you saw there are from Cambodia and China, Sri Lanka and Portugal!” 

I felt such indignation.

But then not a week later, our oldest daughter blew by for a quick visit and reported how she had just pulled over at that same beach and delightedly waded in its waters.

“Why didn’t we ever go there?” she wanted to know.

Well, why on earth didn’t we? It was a reminder to me: either keep reaching out or risk turning inward toward a stifling homogeneity. 

I’m thinking I might put up a clothesline myself now that summer’s here and hang me out some laundry. But  for sure I am going to that beach.

No Fool Like an Old Fool

Around 5 o’clock on Monday Facebook decided it was sick of me and my stupid  birthday. Up until then it was meekly reporting that this one and that one had written on my wall and I’d go and read “Happy Birthday Terry!” again and again and how nice was that? Later it just seemed to be saying, “Okay 60 people wrote on your wall, all right? Can we just leave it at that?”

But I was still happy. I loved getting all those greetings even thought by rights birthdays should  bring up weird stuff  for me what with that  phase I went through at 18 where the worse a guy acted the more determined I was to learn his birthday and send him a card. Who knows what I was trying to do there. The only thing our mom ever told us kids about our long-gone dad was that he let his brother use him as a doormat so maybe it was the doormat gene coming through. What can I say? I was young and trying to improve the whole universe through outlandish gestures of maidenly love.

But back to Monday: The birthday greetings that really killed me came from two former students: One said “Happy Birthday Mrs. M! Still a babe!” (So chivalrous and so untrue!) He was a boy taller than all the doorways with wonderful blond curls. The other came from this kid always loping in late to class, pushing his glasses up on his nose and smiling like it was Christmas morning. His comment: “Happy Birthday! Thanks again for friending me!”

But oh, you Boy-with-the-Glasses I am so glad I found you again! And you, Chivalrous Tall-Man! And you Marianne from the fourth seat in the middle who found ME! And you Christine in the row by the clock and you Jean with your delicate bones and you Sharon who I never actually had in class and you Paul and you Tom who went into the Air Force and of course you Michael who could tell even as young as you were that under my brave teachery line of chatter I was as shy as you were.

Sigh. I’ll admit it: I cherish  my friends on Facebook, which is probably silly. I know it’s all supposed to be light and fun and ‘omg!’ and ‘lol!’ but there it is. The more greetings came in Monday the more “seen” I felt – and accepted and yes even understood . I just loved  everyone’s shout-outs and especially the ones from  those former students to their teacher in room 334, who never found another job she loved as much.

even now when I drive by I want to go in  and teach a class