On the last Saturday in February, the rain came down all morning and into the afternoon, until by 3 p.m. the sky began to lighten and by 4, it had cleared. Patches of snow from the month’s several storms still lay about, shrunken and crunchy. I had worked for a few hours, but at 4:15 I closed my laptop, and my husband and I went for a walk.
Glorious sunshine bathed the bare trees as we turned onto Harbor Hills Drive, the long street that stretches across our Port Washington neighborhood, The Terrace. We often walk here, meeting an occasional dog walker or a school bus droning toward Guggenheim Elementary School, but today, people were everywhere. Groups of kids on bikes. Parents pushing strollers. People chatting in their yards, standing apart from their neighbors, or walking in pairs on the road, or with their dogs. The air was full of sound, the sounds of people talking and laughing. Three men appeared in the near distance, running as a group, and as they came closer, their damp clothing and lifted knees and bright eyes spoke of friendship and athleticism and release, a current of energy linking them.
We have lived in The Terrace for 31 years. Never had we seen this street so full of life, not even on multifamily yard-sale days. The scene roused echoes from our 1960s Long Island childhoods, back when kids came out to play with whoever was around, running or riding bikes from one place to another, and parents did their own yardwork, and dogs barked and ran loose, and there were sounds and motion and busyness and purpose.
This is what it takes to bring a suburban neighborhood into the street in the 21st century, I thought: months and months of fear and isolation, people finally exhausted by their screens, three feet of snow fallen in a wintry winter, and now this magic hour, this golden light, this sun-warmed air, and here we all are.
Here we all are.
The people in their driveways — there was a difference. Skin colors ranged the palette from very dark to once-ubiquitous, once exclusive paler tones. This was different. People, young and old, spoke in languages other than English. I wondered: Had the pandemic given cover to a change? Have we grown as a people, finally, to accept difference without panic?
On Sunday morning, the sky was gray. The forecast predicted rain. At noon, I went out into the neighborhood alone.
One boy tentatively practiced tricks on his bicycle. A mother’s voice called sharply to get inside right now. On Harbor Hills Drive, I saw a lone walker, far away. Water gurgled in a storm drain. Two jays shrieked in the treetops, their harsh voices echoing.
The spell that Saturday’s sun had cast was broken, the magic gone. Would it return, could it? Could we emerge from this terrible year of hunger and death, of lies and rage, into days of joy, of golden light, of unity in diversity, days so rich with promise that the very air vibrated with hope?
I keep returning to Harbor Hills Drive, looking for that vibrant community, but the undulating asphalt remains empty. Was it only the shock of warm sun that brought us together? Will we unfurl again, like the emerging green shoots of spring?
Reader Barbara Selvin lives in Port Washington.