“Get off that roof!” I heard Mr. Steigerwald yell from across the street. I had crawled out my bedroom window to sit on the roof where I could think on my own for a bit, but one of my “extra parents” had seen me and scolded me for it. I was thinking, “You’re not my dad, so you can’t tell me what to do!” But I really didn’t believe that. If I didn’t do what he said, he would be calling my dad and let him know where I was. Other times, Mr. Steigerwald would help me out and I ‘d really appreciate his parenting. Like when my brothers and I could walk a few blocks from the swimming pool to the bearing shop where he worked and get a ride home instead of walking for an hour and a half.
We had several neighbors who I felt were extensions of my parents. I knew they were watching out for us and cared about us.
All of us kids on our block, once I counted a hundred, knew which yards were fair game for our Kick-the-Can and Cops-n-Robbers marathons which would last from morning’til the street lights went in. We’d have twenty kids playing and could spread out over about half the block, running through the yards of certain neighbors.
Another extra parent was Mrs. Spinnato who lived across the alley behind our house. One time my younger sister,four years old, cried, “I hate you Mom! I’m going to run away from home!” And my three-year old brother said, “Me too!” Mom made a phone call. I heard her say, “OK, thanks, Ann, I’ll send them over.” Then she handed my siblings a bag and said, “Here’s a bag with some clothes and a snack. You can run away to Spinnatos for awhile. Regina, would you please walk them over there!” So I did!
Mrs. Spinnato was also there when I fell off the backyard trapeze and hurt my arm. It hurt so bad I was delirious, but I saw her there with my mom and heard her voice, “I think it might be broken, Pat, you need to take her to the hospital.”
Years later, I stayed at her house myself when I was secretly requesting donations for a fiftieth anniversary gift for my parents. I had come home while they were away to meet with neighbors and church friends and I didn’t want to stay in the house! Mrs. Spinnato welcomed me at their house and kept my secret too!
And there were the Platts down the street who took us berry picking and helped us pick and arrange the flowers for my sister, Claudia’s wedding. When my brother died, Mrs. Platt opened her house for Claudia and I to stay.
I’m sure there were plenty of other times the Steigerwalds, Spinnatos, and Platts helped our family that I don’t remember or even know about! They were always invited to the gatherings we had at our house. I just know in my heart that they shared a special bond with my parents that made my own parenting richer.
I know my mom contributed to that community too. We would often hear “Pat! Paaaat! Pat Bernarrrrd!” resonating from the window next door. That would be Mrs. Varley, our next door neighbor whose twelve children outnumbered our ten. She needed help sometimes too!
So, to my extra parents, I extend my thanks and my acknowledgment for your generosity, humility, and wisdom to create the community we all needed.