“Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.” Simon and Garfunkel
There is a bench on Main Street in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire where I used to live, and on it is inscribed, “Sit, and tarry for a while.” I would do that sometimes, right smack in the middle of a busy day. I figured it would be rude not to. I love the word “tarry”--I hear it with a British accent. It allows for procrastination and meditation, but it sounds important and better, like most words do when pronounced with a British accent.
Dave, the girls, and I tarried this past Sunday on our back porch for several hours, enjoying the fall weather in the company of good friends. Dave didn’t organize his office. I didn’t get to the grocery store; I therefore didn’t make dinner, but the girls and their buddies made ‘soup’ out of mud, rose petals, and the sad looking basil remaining in my porch pots. Caroline and Lexi were smudged little urchins by evening.
That’s one of the perks of living where we do. Impromptu gatherings pop-up like spring crocuses. This was especially the case when our kids were small and parents were just as itchy to be outside post-naps.
Houses here are close together. Neighbors know how often I shake out area rugs. They hear how infrequently I vacuum. There’s not a lot to hide. Our kids expect to see a handful of their friends each day—are disappointed when they don’t. They treat the neighborhood gang like siblings, for better or worse. Lexi and her pal Bianca have daily battles. Yesterday’s: Lexi demanded to pretend that they were friends who lived next door to each other while Bianca insisted on pretending that they lived driving distance away. It almost came to fisticuffs until Bianca’s mom suggested that they live next door and then drive to another friend’s house. I thought maybe a nice, easy, slow Sunday drive to the matinee, way, way far across town.
It’s a little like commune living.
My dad was in town visiting last weekend, and one neighbor Chris popped in to say ‘hey’ to him—it was 9 in the morning; I was drinking coffee, still in my pajamas. Chris reminds me of Kramer on Seinfeld—he’s not crazy, but he’s tall and seems to suddenly appear in our doorway. His hair is tamer than Kramer’s because Chris gets his cut once a quarter at Glow—I know this for the same reason that I know how many times Susanne’s son Hayden wakes up in the middle of the night, or what Near East Rice Pilaf costs at Giant, or what handy man to use for water-heater replacement. I know this for the same reason that my neighbors know I’m afraid of flying, that Dave’s allergic to black beans, and that it took us 7 months to decide on what refrigerator to buy.
The playground is so close I can carry home two toddlers, two sippy cups, a soccer ball and one pair of discarded socks without dropping anything or having to stop for breath. No surprise, the playground is where much of the communing takes place. If it is raining or snowing, we often meet indoors, share meals, letting the kids loose on a variety of basements. There have been memorable gatherings—like the January morning in 2010 when about 20 of us shoved our kids in boots, trudged several houses down through a foot of snow for brunch at the Blackburns. We left after dinner. Or the time when a few of the little ones pretended a bag of fertilizer was a bag of flower seeds and planted a garden in our basement.
But most days have blended into others as we’ve watched newborns become toddlers become bus-riders, and we’ve all witnessed it together, disbelievingly. Sometimes it’s a group happy hour; sometimes it’s several conversations at once; sometimes it’s tired grown-ups checking cell phones. There have been topples and tantrums, impressive clutch grabs from parents who turn just in time to catch a two-year old diving from the wobbly bridge.
We’ve got ear infections, dogs with torn ACLs, our own sledding hill, crazy uncle stories, restaurant recommendations, job woes, comparative shopping. We commiserate, share recipes, talk sports, and expose our worst and our best parenting moments. We get some air.
There’s always a next, though, and much of the Old Guard has found a new place—in Severna Park, Riva, Edgewater, Atlanta, Philly. The Woodsons leave for Connecticut next week.
I teach my kids to say “please” and “thank you” and to wash hands before dinner and pick up the clothes on their bedroom floor, but teaching good bye is a hec of a thing. So I will revert to “thank you”—to all of the Old Guard. I miss you. I will miss you. It’s been so nice, this time we’ve spent tarrying for a while.