I grew up living across the street from this guy. He and his beautiful German wife Zita were quiet unpretentious people and they had a couple nice kids who each summer bought up all the local watermelons and threw a big outdoor watermelon party. So much for that racist stereotype. Few things stood out about this family except that they knew good art, had remarkably good taste and always appeared to be in good health. As a kid you can learn a lot from your neighbors especially when your parents don't take particular interest in you. As was the case at my home.
This photo rattled my consciousness and forced me to acknowledge in this moment all the lessons I learned from neighbors. It reminded me of all the things I learned from all the cool people on Gregory Road in Connecticut where I grew up. So thanks Frank, Zita Gurrier, Bob Sparan, Chris Ruth and Larry White, The crazy Smith family, the Knight brothers, the Wright family, the Lauretsen family, Catterton, Viggiano, Krause, Peterson, Hayes, Kelleher, Santora, and the incredibly warm and loving Hampton family. Reflecting back on all the time people on my street took to teach me things my parents had no time or knowledge to do so came back to me when I saw this photo of Frank Gurrier at 89 years of age.
Each neighbor taught me something different. Frank taught me that extreme exercise was good, Zita taught me what good interior design was and that women could go into the workforce and support their families. Bob Sparan taught me how present and kind a dad could be. (Plus they let me use their pool any time I wanted. That's huge to a kid with heat sensitivity). I learned what hard work was from the Santora family. I learned how to keep a house clean from the Whites (as squeaky clean as their name) and I learned what true kindness was from the Hampton's and one other family who's name I can not remember.
There were others too. As I recall fifty odd years ago, I learned important early childhood lessons from these families. When you grow up inside the ice cold cruelty of a dysfunctional alcoholic Stepford family like mine, even as a child you look creatively outside of the family unit and you lean heavily upon whatever knowledge is available from the best of any available local role models around you. Children make important choices. Smart kids know when to look for better role models to emulate, and sadly some don't. For me was ready to glom onto anybody or anything that was sober or not pretending to be something they were not. Anything that made sense was now my new best friend. When you are treated with absolute indifference by your family they make it easy for you to find people like these outside the home.
Each man or woman in my neighborhood had something wonderful to offer. I was fortunate to know these people and am very grateful for their significant if not momentous contribution to my childhood then and now for the results that has formed a significant portion of what has become the rather decent man I have become today.