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OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Good neighbors and the ties that bind

I would like to tell you about my neighbor Andy.

When we moved into our West Babylon neighborhood in 1990, Andy Caputo and his wife, Kay, were pretty much the first people we met. Their house was directly across the street, and they came over to greet us.

They had lived there since 1967, part of the long and still-running tradition of city folks who left places like the Bronx, his borough, for a suburban enclave in which to raise their kids. We moved from the Bronx, too, and they were warm and genial, and full of information.

They told us which bakery to go to for cakes, and which to go to for bread. Andy knew which house had been the general store as the neighborhood began to fill out in the 50s and 60s, and the occupations of everyone around us.

He served in the Marines out of high school, became a bricklayer who worked more than four decades on construction jobs like Co-op City in the Bronx, and in his younger days sang with a wedding band all over the metropolitan area (he invited me into his house once to play a record they had made and, for the record, they sounded great).

Those ties lingered. Andy proudly and regularly wore his Marines veteran cap, and often played music while doing yard work out front, hanging Christmas lights from the gutter, or taking it easy out back, Sinatra and others wafting their way over to our house.

More than anything, though, Andy was all about family — his own, of course, but others, too. He delighted in hearing about our kids and our grandson as much as he liked talking about his seven kids.

As the years passed, we watched out for each other. They would keep an eye on our vegetable gardens when we went on vacation; we gave them some of our produce. When we got 5-yard deliveries of mulch in our driveway in the spring, we'd give him some wheelbarrows-full for his gardens. Once, when we were away on a trip, he and his son lowered a brick paving stone that was scraping the bottom of the gate on the walk next to our garage. We took turns moving each other's garbage cans back toward their final resting places after the trash was collected. They brought over two kinds of figs from their trees; we'd give them raspberries and blackberries.

Andy and I would complain to each other about the big trucks that use our streets as a shortcut from Rt. 109 to an industrial area in Lindenhurst. Often, I'd be cutting the grass or trimming the hedges or bushes, and he'd call out, "Hey, Mike, you're making me look bad," which, of course, was not remotely true.

As more time went by, we didn't see him out walking their small dog in the stroller as often, and we'd help with shoveling the snow in the winter.

When we talk about our neighborhoods, we can say how much we enjoy the parks, how much we value the trees and other greenery that make them visually appealing, how much we appreciate the quiet refuge they provide from the hurly-burly of our major thoroughfares, how much we cherish the schools our children attend.

But the real strength of our neighborhoods are their people. And every neighborhood, if it's lucky — as I think most Long Island neighborhoods are — has its own Andy. Or, in some cases, many Andy's. Our neighborhoods are built on them, and strengthened by their glue. We are better for their presence, and worse for their absence.

Andy died this month, at the age of 86.

I will miss him, more than he knows.

Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.