Adele Elliott: Love thy neighbor

July 11, 2009

Adele Elliott - [email protected]


Our backyard garden is thriving, in spite of the triple-digit heat index. The bounty of plump cucumbers is just beginning to dwindle. The last few appeared curled into fanciful flourishes, fat feather-ish shapes, looking like something that would adorn the hat of a woodland gnome. 


Not to worry, though. Now, perfect, purple eggplant and luscious tomatoes hang heavy on the lush vines. Our neighbor, "Farmer" Greg, is responsible for this miraculous crop. He did 99 percent of the work, and gives Chris a bit of guidance about watering and harvesting. 


Greg is upset that the blue jays and mockingbirds are enjoying the red fruit as much as we are. That doesn''t bother me too much. They eat very little, and I just slice off the parts pierced by bird beaks. Sharing with the neighbors (of all species) is almost as much fun as eating these crops. 


Recently, many of us on the Southside attended a meeting at the Municipal Complex, addressing the issue of rising in crime in our neighborhood. 


"How many of you know each other?" asked our Police Chief, Joseph St. John. 


We all looked around and nodded. We do know each other. "Yeah," quipped Jan Miller, "we should all get together for a party later." The crowd chuckled. 


He was impressed. "I''ve never seen a turnout like this in other cities ... except when a child has disappeared. You people really care about your community." OK, tell us something new. 


But, knowing each other can be a double-edged sword. One morning, as I returned home from chauffeuring my husband to work at the inhumane hour of 7:45 a.m., my neighbor in the beautiful, yellow Victorian called from her porch. "Adele, can you run me over to Propst Park this morning? I play canasta with the old ladies there, and cannot drive my car." Of course, I could. 


On the ride over she said, "I hear your mother is not well, and you will go to Portland to see her soon." 


I was shocked that she could know such timely news. I haven''t even set a date for that journey. 


"How on Earth did you learn that?" I wondered if my house was bugged. 


"Oh, I ran into a friend of yours at Fuhgetaboutit''s. She is very worried about you." 


It''s one on those things we get accustomed to in Columbus. Everyone seems to know intimate info about our lives. Perhaps that is not such a good thing. 


Rumors run rampant. Some of them are even true. I do not care much what others say about us. (After all, a few of the stories may have been started by me.) Some people seem to think Chris and I are suspect just because we come from a city with an exotic reputation. We have tried so very hard to fit in and say only kind things about this city, which we chose. 


In other ways, meddlesome neighbors are welcome. We are aware of strangers on the street. We watch each other''s homes. Our curiosity is part snooping, part protective. 


Once or twice, I have called the Columbus Police and been amazed at how quickly they arrive. You don''t get that sort of response in most cities, unless maybe someone is bleeding in the street. 


It''s a jungle out there. Here''s hoping we can confine the conflicts to that tiny plot we call "our garden." The struggle for survival (or maybe just for vegetables) should be limited to battles between us and those ruthless birds. 


I appreciate my neighbors and welcome their interest in my very uninteresting life. (Well, most of the time, anyway.) Oh, yeah, please watch my house while I am in Oregon.

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.