Last week I read in the paper about a mysterious murder that occurred in the upscale peninsula community of Hillsborough. According to the article, a 58-year-old woman was killed in a house break-in at 4:30 in the morning. Neighbors and authorities were shocked. Violent crime is almost unheard of in Hillsborough, said someone in the know. The last incident of a homicide occurred in 1998 when a woman was abducted and murdered by her house cleaner. The article went on to say that Hillsborough is one of the richest communities in the United States. The house where the incident occurred has seven bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms, and was bought in 1994 for $1,125,000. The house across the street is currently on sale for $2.8 million.
A neighbor was interviewed who said that the residents of the area do not socialize with each other. She went on to say that she doesn’t know the names of any of her neighbors, and that she has lived on the same street since 1986. “Sometimes nosy neighbors are good, but we don’t have that here,” she said.
How sad I thought. In my neighborhood, I know many of my neighbors. We say hello to one another and occasionally help each other out. Just this past week I attended Mrs. Brown’s eightieth birthday party at the nearby North Oakland Senior Center. Mrs. Brown has lived in the same house on Dover Street for more than 40 years. She knows everyone on the block and many of us were there to celebrate her birthday. Teddy Franklin, who lives across the street from Mrs. Brown, acted as the master of ceremonies. He even brought his own mother, Mary Franklin, up from Ridgeland, Miss. to participate in the celebration. Teddy’s wife, Helen, helped with serving the food and arranged all the flowers. Dennis Payne and Eric Boykin, who has lived on the block since he was a baby, assisted with the clean-up. Mrs. Brown’s sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews flew in from Houston, Seattle and Los Angeles for the occasion. Teddy knew most of them already. He and Mrs. Brown had flown to Texas together once in order to visit her extended family.
When my husband had a bicycling accident in 1994 and became a C-4 quadriplegic, unable to use his arms or legs, people in the neighborhood helped us. Mrs. Brown’s tenant, Mrs. Gerstine Scott, was the first to arrive, and she stuck around, through thick and thin, until her death in 2001.
Many of the familiar faces on the street have changed since we moved here in 1992. Next door neighbors Yasmine and Tom left for Hawaii in 1996. Ruthie and Craig moved to Southern California last year. Bonnie went to Folsom in 1995, and Ron and Opal, who lived in the house across the street in which Opal grew up, retired to Sacramento in 2002. In their places others have settled in and we’ve gotten to know them all. If I want help with an electrical or plumbing problem I call on Teddy. When I’ve needed someone to look after Ralph while running an errand, Eric has come over and watched the ballgame with him. Once, when our elderly housemate Leroy was stuck on the downstairs couch and needed to be transferred upstairs. neighbors Githinji and Matt carried him up the stairs. I’ve loaned jumper cables and muffin pans to Jenna next door, run a couple errands for Mrs. Brown, hired Tyrone from down the street to paint my kitchen and bedrooms. Andrea, who once lived one block over with her mother, now lives with us and helps with Ralph’s care.
Mrs. Brown stood up during her party and made a brief speech, thanking us for helping her celebrate her eightieth birthday. “We gotta stick together,” she said. I couldn’t agree more. Our neighborhood isn’t ideal, but we have something that electronic gates and burglar alarms can’t compete with, and for that I’m very grateful.