7.07.2005

Farewell Miss Waltham 1937

I've mentioned in previous posts how our borderline neighborhood is changing, and this month it will lose one of its oldest residents. Her husband built the house she now lives in, in 1940. That's right -- 65 years ago, before television, four-lane highways, the condo craze, and even before World War II, her husband, an electrical engineer, bought the lot, built the house, and moved in. With some foresight, he made it a two-family house, so they could get some extra income from renters.

I never knew the husband, but I have known her and several of her renters since we moved here. She was born in Waltham to parents who were immigrants from Italy, and once showed me with pride a black and white picture of her in a gown, with art-deco arches in the background -- "That's me, from 1937. I was Miss Waltham!"

She remembers fairs from her youth with dancing and other activities -- this would have been in the 1920s -- and also remembers details about our neighborhood that very few people still recall, such as which houses were built when she moved here in 1940, and the neighborhood ladies' get-togethers over tea or a movie or a shopping expedition to Moody Street or downtown. She knew the previous owner of our house, a Mrs. Alcott, an older woman who looked after her and talked with her about gardening. Mrs. Alcott kept a beautiful house; it had a white picket fence and a flagstone path and a maple tree and a driveway made of white crushed stone, all of which no longer exist because after she left a fireman moved in and removed the plants and tree and paved over the path and white driveway.

I wouldn't know this or many other details, but Miss Waltham 1937 still remembers them. She also remembers all of the neighbors who have moved away or died, and notes that there was a different sense of community. "I knew everyone back then. Up and down this street."

Not any longer. People moved on, she became too old to do gardening or have barbecues or go next door for a cup of sugar. I hate to say it, but people have changed too. Maybe it's because people move in and move out more frequently, or fewer people have kids or spend time outside, but I hardly know half the people on my street.

In any case, Miss Waltham 1937 is remarkably active for her age -- she has friends who take her out to dinner or music or shopping -- but she is lonely, too. Her husband has passed away, her sister is in a nursing home, and her friends from the neighborhood are gone or fading. So her daughter will come this month and move her into an apartment next to her's in Manhattan.

It will be a sad day for our neighborhood, even if few people will notice. On that day we will not only lose a friend, we will lose a link to the past of this community that no one can bring back. I am thankful I had a few years to know her, but will be sad when she leaves, and will regret not having a chance to ask her about the other places and people and details she remembers from Waltham and our neighborhood.

Farewell, Miss Waltham 1937.

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