I grew up on Emerald Lane, a long street in the small town of Mahopac, N.Y.
Emerald Lane was a magical place. Wait, that’s not entirely true. Emerald Lane was a street, just like any street. If you drove up it, you drove down it. The houses looked like any other houses in any other similarly rural town. They were yellow, brown, white, sorta plain, about 3/4 acre of yard space. If one were to make a movie about a relatively dull-looking street, Emerald Lane would do the producer perfectly fine.
But here’s the thing: To live there was magical. Especially to live there as a child. Really, we owned the place. When it snowed, you’d find, oh, 10 … 12 … 15 of us on our sleds, zipping down, walking back up, zipping down again. Same thing with Halloween—all of us walking up and down in our Darth Vader and Fred Flintstone masks, loading up on candy.
Emerald Lane was the land of endless driveway pickup games; of weekend night tag marathons; of tackle football in the Garganos’ front yard. If you were a Cub Scout, and it was time to sell your annual junk out of the cardboard box, you’d walk house to house along Emerald Lane, knowing neighbors would (purely out of pity) buy a dish scrubber or six-pack of soup can magnets.
Again, it was a magical place. Just magical.
Tonight, my nostalgia isn’t a byproduct of joy, but sadness.
A few hours ago I learned that Chris Walker, longtime Emerald Lane resident, died after a long illness. Mrs. Walker lived on the bottom of the street, probably seven or eight houses down from mine, and on the opposite side. For either one or two years, she watched me and my brother after school, which meant we’d get off the bus from Lakeview Elementary, have snack with the Walkers’ four kids, then run around for a couple of hours until Mom returned from work.
Mrs. Walker was a fascinating woman, in ways that didn’t seem especially fascinating at the time. Her husband, Robert, was a police officer, meaning she was often alone in watching over four … five … six … seven … however many kids were hanging out at 9 Emerald Lane. I remember the ashtray for her cigarettes. I remember the candies she always had out in a bowl come Christmas season. I remember the stacks of Sports Illustrateds on a coffee table downstairs. I remember that, out of nervousness, she never drove a car, and would depend on neighbors to take her to the supermarket and hair dresser. Hell, I can hear her voice as I write this, even though it’s probably been 15 years since we last spoke. “Jeff, tell your mother …”
In short, Mrs. Walker was a staple of my boyhood. She was always there, a reassuring presence, an important presence. It was another great part of Emerald Lane—the cast of characters. When it was time for dinner, Mr. Walker would let loose the loudest whistle you’d ever hear, and his kids came running. A few houses up, I’d always see Mr. Shepherd walking the family’s poodle, smiling. There was Chris Anderson with his movie equipment. Mr. Galgano mowing his lawn. Richie Miller working on his Camaro. Mrs. Digioia yelling for Max, the beloved golden retriever, to come inside. The familiarity was, for a young boy, reassuring and protective. You knew who people were, and they knew you. It wasn’t family, but it was warm.
I can’t help but feel, with Mrs. Walker’s passing, that something has been forever lost. Yes, the life of a very good woman. But more than that.
The happiness of a bygone time on an amazing street.