Neighborhood watch

Every morning at precisely 7:55 a.m., a man walks by our house with his golden lab. Every morning at 7:56 a.m., I find myself wondering about him. He and his dog look like they’ve had a few hard years. He walks methodically and is slightly stooped — as if he is carrying some burden. The dog’s fur has a few specks of gray and his belly is on the tubby side. Each morning as the man passes, I look for signs of lightness, of a spring in his step. Whatever those burdens are — whether physical or emotional — I’m hoping that they will lift.

What this man does not know is that he brings me comfort because his routine is part of my own. During the school year when he walks by my house each morning, I am locked into my own daily schedule in the kitchen, that of making my children their school lunch. For all I know, he secretly glances toward my window and is relieved to see that I’m in my appointed place. I’m a clockwork-person like him and our lives are linked in a subtle way. Although my sandwiches would get made without him, his momentary presence makes the experience richer. “Good morning,” I think, “There you are, and here I am.”

An older woman in our neighborhood brings me great joy when she pedals up our hill on her powder-blue three-speed bike. She is one of those spunky older women who appears to be over the age of 70 but could be as old as 110. I thought she was in her mid-70s when I first saw her biking past our house 14 years ago. My kids know that every time she passes, I will gleefully turn to them and say, “You go, Grandma! That is going to be me when I grow up.” During the winter months, she disappears, and I watch for her spring return with the receding ice. When I see that bike cruising past the last remnants of snow I think, “Yes, she made it through another winter.”

I even have certain birds as part of my routine. All winter, a barred owl hoots throughout the night in a nearby pine tree. Every spring, a Cooper’s hawk returns to our yard to terrorize the chipmunks and songbirds, and most summer evenings a red cardinal sings, “Root beer! Root beer! Root beer!” on the same branch outside of our bedroom window. Their routines guide me as much as my clocks and calendar.

The immigrant store owner who never leaves his post by the cash register, the artist who spends her days walking this city, the group of three retirees who chat amiably in folding chairs by the lake every morning, and the extraordinary gardener whose yard flourishes every July … these are the people I don’t know but who nevertheless transform my neighborhood into my
community.

Jocelyn Hale, executive director of the Loft Literary Center, shares this column with her husband Glenn Miller. They live in the Fulton neighborhood.