From first through third grades I loved everything about school, even the spaghetti served with an ice cream scoop. But I did not love the walk home.
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin didn’t fit in, not in that neighborhood. Rocking chairs, not cars, occupied their garage. Their garage door was always open, and they sat in their chairs, facing out. They called children walking by to come and talk to them. I was one of those children.
Mr. and Mrs. Franklin lived across the street and three houses down from us on Naffa Avenue, Carson, California (Los Angeles County). Whenever I walked home from school, I made sure to walk on the other side of the street. I knew without looking that their garage door was open and Mr. Franklin was giving me that wordless summons: his old, gray head and his old, gray arm simultaneously waving me over in jerking motions. Pretending not to notice, I walked faster, staring at the sidewalk. Just three more houses and I’m home, I thought. But they wouldn’t let me go that easy. Mr. Franklin called out, “Monica! Come here!”
We lived in a subdivision called “Carriage Crest Community,” but the “Community” part didn’t apply. Residents installed thick iron bars over the windows and doors, but the heavy bars, while keeping out potential thieves, also kept out potential friends.
A shy, self-isolating girl in a neighborhood like this, I never wanted to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Franklin. I just wanted to go home where no one would ring the doorbell.
But the Franklins persisted, and I always crossed the street. I stared at the cracks in their driveway while we chatted about nothing memorable. This happened every day.
One Halloween when I was older (around 7th grade), I went trick-or-treating at a tennis friend’s neighborhood (Rancho Palos Verdes—an affluent city where people gave out big chocolates instead of the less expensive lollipops).
The next time I saw Mr. Franklin, he said with a mixture of accusation and sadness, like a child betrayed by his friends, “I waited for you at Halloween. You didn’t come.”
“No, I went to another neighborhood instead.”
“Well, we were waiting for you. We had a one-pound Hershey bar for you.”
Three decades later, I realize that they loved me and I loved them. I miss the Franklins. I want to linger in their garage and get to know them better instead of counting the seconds until I could keep walking home. But, I can’t. They’re gone.
Will they ever know how, in a few short moments after school, they taught me to love my neighbor, to reach out to children around me, to be welcoming and open instead of guarded and afraid?
I’ll never see Mr. and Mrs. Franklin again on this earth. But down the street, there are children coming home from school. I think I’ll wave to them.
(In memory and in honor of Stanley and Jean Franklin, for the Community Writing Project hosted by Jennifer Lee to write about an important person from your childhood.)