Learning to be suburban took a while. I had to learn to grow grass just so that I could cut it down again a week later, and I did become the local expert on organic lawn maintenance. Actually, what made me love my grass was the initial difficulty in growing it at all. I had to rototill the entire area, at least half an acre, then I had to take all the big clumps of dirt and break them down into small clumps of dirt, after which it all required raking, and then seeding and watering, an organic fertilizer being applied last . No weed killers were ever applied, as the theory was that if the lawn was healthy enough, it would drive out the weeds. I doubted, but it worked. I developed a beautiful, lush lawn, and while I was doing my outdoor work, Linda was inside, sanding, staining and wall-papering for all she was worth. It seemed like the work on the house was never done, but we didn’t mind. I guess it was nest-building.
The population of the neighborhood was changing, and the smaller families that moved in now took advantage of the space provided by these large houses by reconfiguring them. However, Mount Carmel, the local parochial school, had to close and reinvent itself as a Montessori school.
Our neighbors were easy to love. I actually had a neighbor named Betty White, who kept me from chopping down a young dogwood sapling that I thought a weed. It is now a gorgeous, mature, flowering tree. When she grew old, she and her husband retired to South Carolina, but their house was bought by a local real estate developer who was attempting to buy all the houses, from my house on, to the end of the block to convert them into condominiums. It never came about.
Come to think of it, besides dog walking, another good way of getting to know your neighbors is to join a local protest movement. In our case it was a protest against the installation of a mental health half-way house right in the middle of our neighborhood. The village government had already placed a couple of “facilities,” in our area, and we were worried that, living as we were on the fringes of a Black neighborhood, we would become the dumping ground for all the mental health problems of the town and surrounding Bergen County.
When we heard about the Bergen Mental Health Center purchase of a rundown house on Boyce Place, we began objecting to it. Eventually the argument came down to the Mental Health Center having bought the house, now needed to do something with it. We offered to fix it up, and get it ready for a private buyer. We even offered to find a buyer. For several weeks we all worked like beavers on that house, cleaning, repairing, painting, refurbishing, and doing all we could to make the house presentable. By the time we got done with it, it was beautiful. And we did find a private buyer for it, complete with family and dog.
This fix-up and private purchase was part of a deal that assured us that no more socially useful facilities would be built in our neighborhood. As a matter of fact, the area has been designated a historic neighborhood. The meetings at our house, the petitioning, the arguing were all exciting, and contributed to making Woodside Avenue what it is today. And taken all together, it was wonderful getting to know our neighbors.