Good memories and good neighbors

Published 7:24 am Tuesday, January 23, 2024

As I sat by my favorite window looking out into the backyard during my devotion time, I enjoyed watching baby birds and a cardinal eating the breadcrumbs I had thrown out to them. I love sitting by that window. I am so appreciative to God for the many tall pine trees and other beautiful trees that grow in my backyard and throughout the neighborhood. I can see trees a block away from that window, and the beautiful view of them is a constant source of joy for me.

This morning though, I happened to focus on something that took my mind down memory lane. I noticed one of my new neighbors had installed several cameras outside their house. Their house is very similar to the house that was next to the one I grew up in on Fourth Street (now renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.) It was a small one-story white house that our neighbor Mrs. Sarah lived in. She lived there with her three grandsons and was one of our neighborhoods ‘security surveillance team members.’

The families living on our street truly looked out for one another. We did not need Ring cameras installed at the front door or cameras angled on the sides of the house. Our neighbors did the security for us. My family would go to Philadelphia for weeks at the time during the summer. Our parents secured the house by locking doors and windows and telling the ‘security team members’ how long we would be gone. We came back from vacation, and all was well.

Many times, an unknown person who walked through the neighborhood was greeted by a loud “who you looking for?” by a neighbor on the security team. Often times the stranger would not have seen anyone asking the question because the inquiry came from the person behind a screen door or window. Our elderly retired neighbors were especially vigilant and attentive to their duties as ‘keepers of the neighborhood.’

As I came home from school I walked up on the porch and walked into the house. I never had a house key. The door was unlocked. After me and my other sisters got inside our house, we closed the front door and simply ‘secured’ the screen door with a hook and eye type of simple lock and that was it.

Times have changed, people have changed, and neighborhoods have changed. But I am so grateful that I live in a neighborhood where folks still look out for one another. Any time someone notices something not quite right, like a package left on the doorstep for too long, or a neighbor who has not been seen in a while signals a ‘let me check on this’ brings back memories of the place and time where I grew up. I am so grateful for that. And I try to repay that gratitude by being a good neighbor.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.