Soon after moving to Montclair, I vowed to continue the “walking culture” that I had leaned on in Brooklyn. Walking to errands, walking to say hello to neighbors, walking to pick up a slice of pizza, walking to get fresh air and exercise. With two small children at home, ages three and just over a year, the walking was also a way to break up the long days and get to know our new neighborhood and town.
I enrolled my oldest child at Children’s Studio, and true to my vow, we walked the mile or so to “school,” and always chose Watchung Avenue as our path because of the child-centric delights. “Hello, Bunny!” we’d call to the seasonally costumed rabbit-scarecrow on the corner. “Hello, pink house!” we’d wave as we passed a delightfully bright pink house farther along. A decade later, I’ll embarrass my children to admit that we still acknowledge both of these markers on occasion, although not with the same childlike enthusiasm.
In the afternoons, on our way home to settle into toddler life, we’d often stop halfway at a little bench in front of a home and have a snack. A well-loved scarecrow guarded the gate, and the many butterfly-friendly plants kept their promise to offer some bud or flower to admire. There was a note welcoming passers-by to rest, and there was even a small basket for trash (please no dog poop, thank you very much!).
We have many memories taking a rest stop on sunny days, during drizzly moments, and even making chilly stops with the promise of snow in the air. The children surely looked forward to the crunchy snacks, but for me, a newcomer to town, the open invitation of welcome and to take a moment to rest and watch the world go by was restorative and necessary.
Now, with the addition of a Little Free Library next to the bench and the scarecrow long gone, passing by the little bench on a walk or even in the car (because I’ve become more suburban than I’d like to admit), still brings me right back to those early days when I was still discovering the joys and drama and beauty of Montclair. There were long and lonely, sometimes dark, days of adjustment and change and figuring out who I was in this new place and who I was going to be, but the efforts of as yet unknown neighbors to create community and offer a place to belong made it so much easier to keep walking towards home.
Thank you to the residents of 149 Watchung Avenue for the welcome seat. And may we all remember that whether we know each other or not, we have the ability to be good neighbors to each other. Always.