It’s funny, but I don’t know many people in Cramer Hill anymore, although I moved back here thirty years ago. I know my neighbors to say wave and to say hello, but not much more. My mom and brothers live next door, but most of the other neighbors that I knew very well moved out of Camden.
However, my husband, Carlos, knows the neighbors and he chats with them every day. Why? One, he speaks Spanish and English fluently–he is Cuban and two, he has an adorable personality and loves people.
Me? Well, I was always too, too busy or too, too tired or too, too cranky to chat and I wanted to dash into the house, have a cup of tea and read my Kindle. But, now it’s a different story.
We are gaining a new group of Cramer Hill acquaintances–the people who walk, jog, bike and exercise at the track at Von Neida Park at 29th and River Avenue. (By the way, the park is starting to be renovated …a three million dollar renovation. I think that our track might disappear or be moved soon. Boo hoo.)
I want to walk every morning now that I am retired. No excuses, Marguerite. I have time, my walking companion and a place to walk…Von Neida Park, just down the street. So, we walk and now we meet other people.
During our first lap around the track, we see two woman near a bench who are exercising under one of the trees that was not cut down for the renovation We say hello as we approach them and the tall woman calls to me, “Don’t I know you?”
“Do you work for the Board? I was a teacher at Wiggins,” I tell her. Thousands of people work for the Camden City Board of Education.
“I retired from the Board four years ago. I worked for Food Services. Maybe I saw you or someone who looks like you.”
Huh. Every person I meet knows someone who looks just like me. They never look like me–not in my opinion. Does that happen to you?
I ask, “How do you like retirement?”
“Well, it’s one long summer vacation. I love it,” she says. She looks rested and happy, her hair done beautifully and her make-up tasteful. I can’t wait–maybe I’ll look like that, too, in four years?
Her short friend keeps jogging in pace and she tells us how she retired recently from her job at a Camden hospital. “I had a stroke after working for thirty-some years. I liked my job and I worked all the overtime that I could. But, it was God’s way of telling me to retire and I love it. Now I’m strong and healthy.”
“You look great,” says my husband. She does look great and no one would ever think that she had had a stroke.
“I’m blessed to be here on this gorgeous day exercising.” She laughs and we all laugh–the laugh of retirees who are having a good time. Never thought I’d be one of them at sixty-four… To think that my goal was once to work until seventy!
“We are all blessed to be here today,” I say and they agree, smiling.
A big group of kids with supervising adults walks by us. We wait. They keep coming and coming. Maybe a summer program
“I don’t mind going back to school,” one boy confesses, pulling on his cap, and looking up at one of the women trudging around with the kids. “I’m used to it. I even like it.”
His teachers will love him.
I look at the kids laughing and talking and I say to Carlos, “You see those kids? They were my old life.” I’m not wistful. I’m not. Maybe a smidge.
We move aside because another boy, maybe eleven, is sprinting around the track. I guess he doesn’t want to walk and to talk like the others. Maybe he is savoring those last minutes of summer freedom.
It’s the second time around the track and we see our regulars, women walking alone, men walking alone, couples walking, families walking. I say “Good morning,” and Carlos says, “Buenos dias,” but most answer us with “Buenos dias” and a smile.
We’re almost at the end of the second lap and we decide to not go around for the third time. “Three times tomorrow,” I say to Carlos. He nods and spies the two dogs of our neighbor.
We cross the street and my husband leans over the cyclone fence and pets the two young dogs, panting and slobbering. (The dogs pant and slobber, not my husband, of course.) They waggle their tails and jump up and down to see my husband, the dog lover. The owner comes out and tells us that the dogs are a mix of Shar-pei and pit bull. He explains that Shar-peis originated in China and that they were fighting and guard dogs. Although I am crazy about dogs, I am a bit hesitant to pet these strong-looking dogs with the wrinkly faces. My husband and the owner go freely from English to Spanish and back again while I watch the dogs race around the yard and jump affectionately on top of each other.
Finally, we’re home. We aren’t even out of the house for an hour, but we, Cramer Hill people, connect with some other Cramer Hill people and we will probably continue to do so on our walks.