Passing the years in Mar Vista

mar-vista-stanwood-jg.jpgLovely Mar Vista. Photo by Judy Graeme

Twenty years ago, my around-the-corner neighbor--I'll call her Jean--led the Venice High School Marching Band through the streets of Mar Vista. Our little housing tract was then 50 years old and we celebrated with John Phillip Souza and a bang-up block party.

Already a senior citizen then (although probably my age now) Jean was a force to be reckoned with even before her turn as drum majorette. As homeowners' association president, she cajoled special attention for the neighborhood from our city councilman and stared down anyone whose remodel plans might run afoul of the tract's height and setback restrictions.

Today Jean and her husband form a smaller, sadder parade, occasionally rolling past my front window in twin wheelchairs pushed by their home health aides. Slumped sideways and bundled up in even last summer's fierce heat, age has taken its fearsome toll.

Stay in a place long enough and the arc of life comes up close and personal.

I've now lived here 34 years, not counting the ten years in my parents' house just blocks away or the three years my husband and I left for various adventures. I've been a school kid, a teen, a young adult, mother, an empty nester and now a senior, all within the same Mar Vista streets.

mar-vista-joggers-molly.jpgWhen I first returned to the neighborhood after college, graduate school and a first job elsewhere, my husband and I were part of the stroller set. Now, returning again after a spell in northern California, we happily find new, young families on our block and realize, stunned, that we're now closer to needing walkers than jogging buggies.

This is how it happens, I guess: a year, a decade, then another, silently rolls into the next.

Our new status takes some getting used to.

On Halloween, the young couple down the block tricked out their lawn with "dancing" pumpkins, creepy shadows and all manner of scary sound effects. No surprise, the yard was catnip to a flock of tiny supermen, princesses and power rangers.

But one of the ghosts I thought of that night of was Mr. Matsuda, the last owner of that house. My grown-up children remember him--he may have been in his 90s then--cruising the streets in his senior scooter with Mikey, his tiny Pomeranian, in the foot well. One day this slight, private man rang our bell, sat down in our living room and began to weep for his wife who had recently dropped dead in their kitchen.

Across the street from Mr. Matsuda lived Mr. Pastor, a realtor who'd owned his own agency back in the days before the big realty franchises. Cancer got him and I remember him close to the end, painfully creeping down the block, wasted, supported by an aide.

Will my new neighbors, for now young and vital, feel the same mix of pity and sadness to see me like that one day?

Years after Pastor died, a developer leveled his modest home, replacing it with a fancy spec job: chef's kitchen, two-story ceilings, lap pool in the back--the works. The nice, young couple who bought it also drew a Halloween crowd with their driveway light show. Then last Sunday, they staged a huge bake sale on their lawn with the proceeds going to a local non-profit that feeds the hungry.

The 30-somethings I met there chatted about new playgroups, babysitting coops, and soccer leagues. Their energy heartens me and their warmth and well, neighborliness, contrasts painfully with the grousing of us older folks about package thieves, strange parked cars, and the homeless.

Many mornings these days a young guy lopes past my window, sometimes circling back three or four times. He's tall with a bushy, red beard and he corrals his hair in a bandana. Just seeing him smiling to himself as he glides by shames me into lacing up my own running shoes and heading out the door.

Sometimes Ed jogs by as well. We were in a cancer support group together many years back as his wife and my mom were dying. Ed is probably in his late 70s now and his jogging pace is more a fast walk. So is mine, to tell the truth.

The pull of so many years in one place tempt us oldsters still here to measure the present against some gentler, safer and likely conjured past. My new neighbors' enthusiasm (and their boisterous preschoolers) are a good reminder to not just bolt the doors, hunker down and run out the clock.

Molly Selvin was a Los Angeles Times staff writer for 18 years.

Jogger photo: Molly Selvin

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