Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good neighbours make a neighbourhood

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Spring came on quickly this year. I felt the change in the air one night while getting something out of the car.

The next day there were people walking up and down the block again; kids were cruising by on bikes and some tossed around a football.

The neighbourhood itself is going through changes too.

I haven't seen the smoking lady down the street since before winter. She stands on her porch and smokes cigarettes throughout the day. I hope she hasn't moved on to meet her creator.

Lately, I've been thinking about my old neighbours, Wally and Alice.

Wally and Alice were already here when I moved onto the block about 12 years ago. They lived directly across the street. I don't know exactly how long they were here, but from what I remember, I think it was almost two decades.

I used to chat with Alice once in a while, since she often sat out on her porch.

Her husband, Wally, was a Korean war vet with silver hair and a scar on his face. It wasn't until I knew them a few years that I found out Wally was aboriginal.

We were talking with them in their yard, and then Wally was teasing my son.

"We're tough Indians, eh?" he said to Storm.

Alice told me they used to live up in Thompson before ending up in the North End.

A fancy horse-drawn carriage came jingling up to Wally and Alice's house one summer day. It was quite the sight, impressing all the local kids who came running to see it.

Wally and Alice came out of their house, all dressed up. Then Wally whisked Alice up into the carriage and they were off, the big horses trotting down the street.

When I asked Wally about it he said they'd gotten married again. I never could tell when he was joking or not. They had family from out of town visiting that weekend. The barbeque in their backyard went on well after dark.

It was quiet on our street most of the time.

Then some people who liked to party moved into the house next door to Wally and Alice. The house was always a bit of a nuisance. The owner liked to rent to his drinking partners.

Well, the loud partying seemed to happen a lot, sometimes lasting for days. After a few months of this, Wally got frustrated and had a few words with his loud neighbours.

Then I heard these noisy neighbours make a few threats towards Wally.

It was sad those people had so little respect for elders that they would yell and swear at them. Then again, if you don't respect yourself, then how can you respect anyone else?

A few of us on the block made plans to get rid of the partiers -- including use of the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act. But it was too late. Wally and Alice decided to sell their house and move to a condominium across town.

They said the yard work and maintenance was becoming a bit too much. That was true, but I think it had to do with their neighbours as well. The house sold quickly. They were gone before school started.

I feel bad we didn't do anything sooner.

Partiers still move onto the block, but they never seem to last long.

Partiers often get behind on rent, or have wild parties that end in broken windows or police cars showing up. Sometimes all three at once lead to their downfall.

I take heart that these things always seem to work out in the end.

I once checked out CBC's online murder map. It was a little surprising to see the cluster of crime going on around me. I figure I'll just ride the wave and wait for the calm.

It's too bad Wally and Alice weren't able to outstay those roughnecks who moved next door to them.

Nowadays, I'm thinking our area is at a tipping point -- at least on our block. Last summer, we got three new infill houses and some new neighbours.

My new next-door neighbour is from Korea. She and her husband have a baby girl who's only a few months older than mine.

I think urbanites call these changes gentrification.

Maybe one of these days I will be like Wally and Alice and pack my bags and go. It's hard to imagine someone else living here and looking out my window at the view.

I haven't seen Wally and Alice lately, but every few months their van comes slowly down the street. The brake lights go on as they take a good look at their old place and then drive off.

Maybe I'll see them on one of their Sunday drives soon.

colleen.simard@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2012 J6

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