The neighbourhood just won’t be the same

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Their house is dark now, all zippered up, the windows unusually closed on a warm June evening and the curtains pulled tight in all the front windows. The satellite dish is gone, taken down from the front of the mansard roof, and the realtor’s sign says “SOLD,” all caps and imperative, even though the lockbox is still hanging from the door handle.

I won’t tell you their names, because I know they like their privacy — at least, they like being in control of their own privacy; like being able to share the things they want to share with the people they want to share it with.

But they’ve had 52 years on this street, in this house, watched it go from a slow side street to a fast-driven shortcut to the downtown, watched the mix of homeowners change from families with kids who could play out front to the current uneven mixed cobble that is the downtown now: oil engineers from away, retired people who have been on the street for decades, double-income couples with a penchant for new paint and old features.

If you happen to know them — and they’re well enough known — you might recognize them from what I’ll tell you. If you do, that’s all right, because, well, because you know enough of the story already.

They bought the house when they were young and first in love; he built the backyard shed a forever long time ago, shrugging off nosy neighbours and city inspectors by saying he was building a greenhouse, “because you don’t need a permit for a greenhouse,” and then framing it in with walls to protect it for the winter, and never, ever taking the framing off.

He was a manufacturer’s agent, an unlikely fisherman, a sprinter, a hockey ref. She was a constant, a North Star set for his circling (or at least, that’s the way their universe appeared through my telescope and the distance they keep).

They had a family, survived a fire in the upstairs in the 1970s if I’ve got the story straight, struck deals with nearby parking lot owners to let people on the street park overnight on winter street-widening and plowing nights (as long as no one overstayed the welcome in the morning), made alliances with some neighbours and chose not to with others.

Like all of us on this block, they had their struggles with old houses — somehow, though, they had a fine speed of doing things, a speed that made it seem as if obstacles that looked like they could not be overcome, could at least be ground down by persistent and constant sanding.

If you were up on a ladder, fighting with old clapboard and with the fear of falling at the same time, he could be counted on to angle slowly across the street, stop at a good distance and watch in a way that was strangely calming — as if he was bringing whatever you were doing out of the unusual and into the realm of the expected.

Neighbours — the old-school kind. The kind of people who make their way across the street to remind you the street cleaner is coming, and that you might want to move your car.

Who lend you the power tool you’re missing and still manage to take a kind of honest umbrage if you  return the thing with a new blade.

Who, when the power is out all up and down the street, invite a whole roomful over for tea, “only $5,” on a rig he’s built using two-by-fours, an aluminum pot and a plumber’s blowtorch.

Good, good people. The sort of people that, if you have them in your neighbourhood, you can count yourself lucky.

The kind of people that can’t help but bring out the best in a whole neighbourhood.

I’m not really sure what I’ll make of the new neighbours when they move in. I’m not sure what will happen when I hear a noise, angle open our front curtains and know that the flick of the fabric across the way isn’t from my longtime neighbours, levered up off the sofa by the fulcrum that also pulls me to the glass.

They say the only constant is change. That may be true.

That doesn’t mean you have to like it.

That doesn’t mean you have to like it at all.

You two will be missed.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s news editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: North Star

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