Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Catchin’ a Little Tail in the Landing

I actually wrote this post last week and was saving it but I figured my big Oprah extravaganza post can wait one more day.  Neighborhoods have been on my mind lately, especially with the devastating tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri and the flooding along the Mississippi River.  Tonight, I went to my first ever Homeowners Association meeting and this post seemed timely. 
Almost two years ago, I moved into a development that I’ve affectionately dubbed “the Landing.”  The house that I bought is on an extremely close-knit street; it’s watched over by a pair of dads who keep in line not just their kids but the other kids in our little section of the Landing.  It’s a place where everybody watches out for each other.  There’s even a signal in case something’s wrong.    
On any given day, on any given evening, Mike and John, the dads, are outside playing with a whole pack of kids.  Football, hockey, kickball, rollerblading.  Now, I jokingly ask Mike what the next season’s sport is so I can prepare myself.  And sure, when you’ve got a bunch of kids playing in the street, you have to be careful.  In fact, that’s one of the first things I was told - "We just ask people to slow down when they drive through here because of the kids."  So, I slow to a crawl when I come home and triple-check my mirrors every time I back out of my parking space.  That’s what neighbors – and safe drivers - do.
I never thought I’d really become part of the neighborhood fabric.  I don’t have kids and I’m not much of a joiner.  In fact, it’s very easy for me to be disconnected from larger groups - I am an introvert after all.  I come and go from the Landing just doing my thing.  A polite smile here, a friendly wave there, and then I go inside and shut my door to watch Judge Judy. 
Phoebe - out for her Sunday
morning constitutional
But then a skinny gray cat showed up at my door.  I fought it, I did.  Just ask my friends who kept telling me I should let it in.  You know what happens…one cat becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, and eight becomes Crazy Cat Lady on the Corner.  I’ve seen the Cat Lady documentary…I know how it plays out.  To make a long story short, I let that skittish little stray cat in.  A few weeks later, my mom found out the cat’s back story.  She wasn’t a stray…she was the neighborhood cat and her name was Phoebe.  Phoebe was actually Mike’s wife Vicki’s cat but she’s gentle and docile and was heartlessly bullied by their other mean, nasty cats.  To protect her (although I’m not sure how this protected her), they let her out in the daytime and she made the rounds in the neighborhood.  Last summer, she found me and she’s kinda been mine ever since.  While she’s a wonderful little pal who cuddles up on my lap, she’s done something much more.  She’s connected me to the neighborhood in a way that I don’t think would’ve happened had she not become a part of my life. 
Because of Phoebe, people know that’s there’s a real person living in the corner house…not just a nameless neighbor passing through.  Last Sunday, when I got back from running errands, Mike called over to me – “Hey, Denise!  You want a burger?  We’re having a cook-out.”  I politely declined because I had just eaten lunch but I was touched by the invitation.  A little while later, as I sat on my front step potting some flowers, watching the boys play football in the street, Mike and Vicki’s daughter, Tory, came over to see if Phoebe was around to play.  I explained apologetically that Phoebe was up in her bed napping (now you know why she stayed…she gets a full-size bed all to herself!) but when she woke up, I’d bring her out. 
Duct-tape wallet - never
leave home without it.
On Thursday evening, there was a knock on my door, it was Tory and her friend Courtney.  Trying to hide my grimace because I was on my way to buy my very important umbrella, I told them Phoebe couldn’t play…I was just leaving.  So unneighborly, I know.  Tory said, “No!  We came to give you this!”  “This” was a duct-tape wallet.  “I made it for you because you take care of Phoebe!”  How can you not love that?  I thanked her profusely and then there were hugs all around because I guess ten year olds like to hug.
Phoebe, a now fat gray cat who never quite catches her tail, made me a part of the neighborhood.   
It’s no duct-tape wallet but it’s still a pretty good gift.  I think she deserves a treat.         

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