This morning, as I stood waiting for the coffee to drip, I watched the sunlight creep into the cemetery behind my house. It is a cold morning and the frost makes pretty patterns on the storm window. The neighbors out back are quiet – they usually are. The large headstone closest to my house reads, “Erected to the memory of Moses Morse who was drowned at sea in his 42 year. 1827.” Poor Moses, he’s not out there of course but I always think of him when I look out my window and see his headstone. I wonder what he was like.
I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone else. We were in and out of one another’s houses all the time and the neighbors’ homes were just extensions of our own. Later when I lived in Texas I was lucky to live amidst friendly neighbors but that is not a difficult thing to find in Texas – everyone is friendly. I got invited to barbecues while standing in the checkout line at Foley’s. However, when I moved to Marblehead things changed. I lived out on Peaches Point, a lovely neighborhood, but other than waving as we passed in our cars, neighbors didn’t interact much.
When I decided to move to Gloucester I was having difficulty finding a place to live. My friend Jude, who is very into such things, made me do visualization exercises. She swears by them – I’m not as sure. But I kept imagining a white room with a big white fireplace with lilacs outside the window. On weekends I was driving to Gloucester to look at apartments that were either too small, too dark, or too far out of town. Finally, one woman who was showing me a place said, “Well, I have one place that might be open by when you need it but I’m not sure.” I asked to see it anyway.
The street was quiet and narrow, just two blocks from Main Street. The house was huge and very old but beautifully kept. It was built in the late 1720s, she told me. There were iron boot scrapes on the door step and bottle glass windows in the door – and lilac bushes. When I stepped into the living room it was white, with a white fireplace. I knew then it would be mine.
I have lived here happily for years now and love it as much now as I did when I moved in. The house was loving restored by the father of the present owner back in the Fifties using many of the original doors, hardware, and trim. Inside the fireplace is an iron hook to hang a kettle from, the iron latches on the doors click when you lift them as they did nearly 300 years ago. And behind the house is an ancient cemetery – the oldest Universalist cemetery in America.
I love this neighborhood and, through the years I have grown to be equally fond of my neighbors. I have watched the kids grow up and head off to college, spent mornings on porches drinking coffee and hearing about the old days, taken pies to doors when someone close had died. Last winter when I had a nasty flu Eleanor went shopping for me. Maria and I stop and catch up with each other’s lives whenever we are arriving back home at the same time. Recently I have been helping Sandy edit papers she is writing for college classes she is taking. She brings me fish from her husband’s boat – the best fish I have ever tasted. This past summer Veronica organized the neighbors to clean up and clear out the cemetery. It is pretty as a park these days and all day I see people walking their dogs and stopping to read headstones. Even the sounds have become treasured and familiar – young Joe practicing on his skateboard on summer nights, the predictable thunk when Ralph’s Boston Globe is delivered early in the morning.
It is a beautiful thing to live among people you know and care about. We live in an era of alienation when everyone is so busy that they don’t often have time to be neighborly. I count myself blessed to be among people who still treasure that old value. It is a rare gift these days.
Thanks for reading.