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The 50-year-old perspective: good neighbors

After 20 years of living in this neighborhood and almost as many years organizing the annual Cheltenham Street Potluck, I still can't seem to delegate it to anyone. One year, when I was stalling on the planning, I came under siege from a neighbor who followed me fast and furious with her shopping cart, trying to pin down that I would once again organize the thing. I got flustered, turned too close in the wine section at the Burlingame Freddie's and took out a whole box of wine. Luckily, the crash and commensurate spillage created quite the needed detour. And, yes, I finally relented and organized the thing that year. And annually for another decade after that.

And why shouldn't I be organizing this thing? I have the flier verbiage down, I have the postman bribed to put up with the fliers tucked near the mailbox, I have the rain plan ("Plan to come right up to 4 p.m. unless it's pouring; then we cancel"). We've had to use that plan at least half a dozen times; I mean, this is Portland, and September is a risky weather month (OK, any month in Portland is a risky weather month).

I know to ask a positive question during the circle introductions so the discussion doesn't spiral to potholes or, gasp, sexual predators. One year it was, "What was your best story during the freak snowstorm?" (One gal spent the whole storm alone in her cold home while her husband called daily after his golf game — in Hawaii.) And this year it was, "How do you feel blessed living in this neighborhood?"

And boy, do I feel blessed, even if I have to facilitate this thing annually. Two of my very best friends live on this street; they are like sisters to me, and I know I can always borrow a cup of sugar (or DVDs, or real estate in their shed). We marvel at the positive brightness of Pat and Merle Lotz, retired music teachers (who, in turn, marvel at the generosity of Thinker Toys owner Joan Steinbach, who actually took Pat home once when Merle fell asleep on the phone and couldn't answer or pick Pat up). I'm grateful to Hal and Ann, who in August water the grass, the only flat area on the whole street. When my husband and I announced this year that we had finally saved enough money to replace our sewer pipe, driveway and rock walls, a handful of neighbors immediately offered parking in their driveways. When one of us is hurting, we step in with a massage certificate, a casserole (yes, we still make them on our street), a couple of loads of laundry, even a shower when the sewer line replacement doesn't go well.

I'm sure it's the same in your neighborhood. If not, there are a couple of houses for sale on Cheltenham Street.

Lori Sweeney's front yard is a mud hole but a neighbor hasn't yet offered to put up a sign for her parking space in their driveway. Yet.