Last night, as I drove down my street on the way to Ocho's in Half Moon Bay, I saw Mrs. Cunningham watching TV from her chair by the window. I've always had great respect for Mrs. Cunningham--Margaret, as she's
known to her peers.
But there aren't that many of Mrs. Cunningham's peers left on my street. When I first moved to my street 10 years ago, there was this lovely mix of age groups on the three or four blocks around my little red house, including lots of people with kids and lots of older folks who had already raised their kids. The older folks included Leo, a retired aircraft mechanic; Frank and Sylvia, who were incredibly tiny and frail but drove a giant pale yellow Cadillac with fins; George and Josephine Cocconi, who were from Italy (or as Mrs. Cocconi pronounced it, It-lee); Frank, who had a thick German accent, and his shy, sweet wife Judy; Ingrid Poore, a 90-year-old old woman who would pad up to the stop sign in front of my house in her nightgown, sweater and slippers, and stop in front of my driveway to say hello to me and my kids (always remembering our names); and my favorites, Phil and Roz. Phil helped me put the sump pump under my house during El Nino; Roz and I would often get together to talk about the deeper issues in life over potstickers and jasmine tea down at the little Chinese place.
To my utter dismay, Phil and Roz a few years ago packed up and moved to Kona. Phil now plays golf and the ukelele and emails me off-color, un-PC jokes, while Roz stoically deals with chronic pain and Phil's jokes. The rest of the older folks...Leo, George and Josephine, Frank and Sylvia...they either passed away or moved into retirement communities.
So, it is always comforting to me when I see Mrs. Cunningham still in the neighborhood, walking her dog at a brisk pace. I don’t know why it makes me feel good. I think maybe it’s because while some of the newer people on the street don’t know Mrs. Cunningham, I’ve been there long enough to know that she used to walk her little dog three times a day, she put up Halloween and Christmas decorations long after her kids moved out of the house, and she lobbied the city of Belmont for years to have our street regraded, repaved and curbed. I worry that people see only an old woman when they see Mrs. Cunningham in her window in front of the TV. I worry that’s all people will see when they look in my window in 30 years. That is, if I'm lucky enough to live another 30 years.
Life is short. Having recently had breast cancer, I am now acutely aware of that fact. But I was just thinking… Maybe if I live my short life as Mrs. Cunningham has—with passion, energy and an outward focus—maybe 30 years from now a middle-aged woman will drive up the street, look in my window, see me in front of my TV, and smile--knowing that I once was a vibrant old chick who sometimes walked her dog, usually cleaned her own gutters, and always tried to be a good friend, a decent mom, and an involved community member. Like Mrs. Cunningham.