Today I attended a funeral with my 88-year-old dad. It was the funeral of a woman who lived across the street from my family when I was growing up, a woman for whom I feel much admiration and affection. She and her husband, along with their children, go as far back as my memory goes of my family living on that street. We moved in when I was three months shy of turning four, and they were across the street two doors down. At that time they had three children; the other three would come later, as would my only sibling. When we moved to that street, I was still an only child. I guess my parents celebrated the move by conceiving my little sister who was born nine months later.
As we sat in the church today, my eyes on the grown children mourning their mother (my friends from childhood), I thought about that street and our years growing up there. I thought about their house and the people in it. I thought about their family of six children and how to me, one of two children, it seemed to be a house full of laughter and fun, a mysterious way to live having all those siblings. Of course, our house had plenty of laughter and fun, too, but I didn’t have all those siblings. And even though at the time I could hardly stand the one sibling I had, wasn’t it perfectly natural to think having more would be preferable? At least in theory? I thought about the fact that of those six children, one of them became my sister’s best neighborhood friend. I thought about their mom, of course, and their dad who pre-deceased her. I thought quite a bit about all our moms, houses, and all our childhoods.
Sharing a street growing up means sharing a part of your own personal history. It means sharing a collective memory. We can all remember the saplings that have now become proud and beautiful trees, remember the daisy chains we made while sitting in the grass (do children still sit in the grass?), remember the boys (and sometimes the girls) drinking from water hoses, remember the small fleet of our bikes and riding them together down the street and beyond, remember climbing trees, remember baseball games in an empty field, remember the voices of our mothers calling us home from the porch instead of a cell phone, remember when our street that was originally gravel was paved, remember the birth of every family’s younger children, remember Halloweens after Halloweens, trick or treating together in a band of goblins made up of various ages and sizes, older siblings responsible for the younger ones as we walked the boundaries we’d been given. There was no need for our parents to walk along with us. It was such an innocent time. We remember and remember. There were many houses on our street with children, and when we were all playing outside, we were quite a number. Of course, we didn’t all play together. There was a natural pecking order, and it was determined by age. It was as much a rule of nature on our block of that street as day following night, and it was something to which we strictly adhered. After all, it gave us a much-needed break from playing with our siblings.
I thought about the fact that since I was only three when we moved there, I wasn’t allowed to cross the street, so I sat on our front steps waving to the little girl (not much older) who lived directly across the street. She’d wave back, and it seems now that we sat there for hours waving and grinning at each other, but I’m sure it wasn’t for that long. I do know it was everyday. I suppose we had to wait for a parent to walk one of us over to the other. That little girl and I grew up together on that street, as did the family sitting in the church today saying good-bye to their mother, and we remained close friends. She was my best neighborhood friend. Don’t we all have one? We all grew up on that street, all of us from the different families. All the way up. We all started school on that street, and we all graduated from high school while living there, too. When we were in lower elementary school, most of our families had only one car. Our dads would car pool to work – though not all to the same place – and so our moms would car pool taking us to school. Sitting cramped in an automobile decades before required seatbelts is an almost indescribable experience. Later, when we were older, we formed unplanned gangs with the other neighborhood kids from other streets to walk to and from school. Most of us went on to graduate from college, most of us from this blue-collar neighborhood with parents who badly wanted college educations for their baby-boomer children. All of us married while our parents were still neighbors, with some of us still living at home.
Now we’ve all lost at least one parent, some of us both. Now we know the perils of adulthood, that good marriages last but bad marriages don’t. All our parents somehow had good marriages. Some of us weren’t as fortunate. For some of us it took more than one marriage to get that good one. We know the joys and the trials of parenthood, and we certainly know the grief, the raw grief of losing the parents whose voices called us home in the evenings and worked to give us everything they could, including a childhood worth remembering. And they gave us each other. We don’t see each other much these days, but we know we’re all only a phone call or Facebook post away. And we remember.