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March 3, 2010 > Time stood still

Time stood still

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Doris Nikolaidis

Drive down a quiet cul-de-sac in Union City and you will see 15 older, modest stucco homes. A ride by these dwellings will not reveal the true and incredible solidarity found here. One neighbor, who moved here as a young teenager, describes this block as a "little bit of heaven right here on earth."

The uniqueness is probably attributable to three causes:

In the early years, young children abounded, babies were born, and numerous stay-at-home moms contributed to the sharing and the socialization. Children played together and parents shared babysitting. Camaraderie prevailed and shaped a sense of kinship.

The children started school and stay-at-home moms became employed, out-of-home moms. Togetherness was limited but children played together when home. One vital event, which continued was the annual Christmas progressive dinner. In the early years, one energetic individual organized this annual custom. Three households rotated having the different courses in their homes. All others provided an appetizer, an entrŽe, or a dessert. This holiday affair augmented the sense of community for many years. Companionship was the aim and the outcome. Moreover it provided a congenial, and often humorous, format for dealing with minor problems. Eventually it died, to the chagrin of many.

Some of the children who have grown up and moved away shared their recollections. Christmas caroling and fireworks at Fourth of July were predominant. On Halloween, "trick or treaters" did not have to leave the block to fill their plastic pumpkins with treats. Others remembered common pastimes such as climbing trees, riding Big Wheels, and playing baseball and hide and seek. Another recounted her highlight of how this place "felt" when she was a child. She wrote that her childhood was like growing up on a street filled with family.

The diversity made and still makes this the best neighborhood, according to one long timer. In the beginning, emigrants from Greece, Germany, Spain, the Philippines, and Italy filled numerous homes. They remembered the neighborhoods of their home countries and emulated these characteristics. American-born residents, with amazingly similar values, comprised the remaining households. Changes to the block happened, primarily due to job changes and divorces. Families from Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, China, Fiji, and Lebanon filled the vacancies.

The third factor to this neighborhood's uniqueness is the constancy. Remarkably four of the first buyers still live here. Seven moved here between 1974 and 1988. Four have moved in since 1996; three of this quartet joined the ranks within the past year. The stability is part of the magic.

A few neighbors have moved out and new ones have moved in. Children have grown, moved on, married, and now grandchildren come to visit. This idyllic location still is a true neighborhood, probably old-fashioned, but so, very nice. Security is one positive; the dead-end street helps and all maintain an unofficial neighborhood watch.

One anecdote reveals the benevolence, then and now, of this place. Years ago, one family with several children had a minor crisis. One of the younger boys had pushed a bean up his nose and his mother could not retrieve it. A trip to the emergency room ensued. Neighbors automatically provided childcare and also prepared a bountiful meal that awaited their return. A reminder of Hillary Clinton's, It Takes a Village; this was customary behavior here.

Currently social ties remain as most of the residents retired. Coffee klatches or tea times occur, with contemplative discussions on books, politics, movies and life in general. Regular Scrabble games help maintain brain power. Gardening chores are shared. The senior center is popular; varied retirees take silk flower making classes, play bingo, attend the book club, play pool, or participate in exercise classes. Retirement does not mean stagnation.

One young woman, who grew up here, wonders if neighborhoods like this one exist anymore. That is a good question. If they do, it seemingly is a rare phenomenon. But here, time has stood still.

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