In the Neighborhood

Paul and Mary’s house, as seen from our deck. This is the story of our winter: lots of dreary gray without much snow to show for it.

When I first saw them, the couple walking east on Riverwalk Drive as Oz and I were walking west, they struck me as notable for a couple of reasons: they had no dog, and both were smoking cigarettes.

For being a sprawling neighborhood of so many acres, we are still a small sort of place, people-wise. The 15th house out of a possible 40-some (the exact number seems to keep changing, could be 42, 44, perhaps 45) is under construction now, although at the annual homeowners association meeting last month we learned that someone else has submitted their preliminary application to become House #16.

One couple out here made the unfortunate choice to lead with their attorney in multiple interactions with the HOA, but on the ground they seem nice enough, and perhaps they’ll get the hang of this place eventually. Everyone else has been a good neighbor to get to meet and know.

Despite an imposing stone-wall entrance (a choice I don’t believe I would have made), and multiple signs on the roads and trails advising people that these are private for the use of Riverwalk owners and their guests, we get a ton of people on foot and bikes out here.

I assume most of it’s because we are, despite the constant building that started a year or two before we made our contribution, more trees than houses in this neighborhood, offering more curb appeal than either the long-established neighborhood to the north of us, which comes without trails and not even very many trees, or the trailer park directly across the highway.

People who come in to Riverwalk almost always enter and leave without a problem, and most of them are quite friendly as well. While it’s not unusual to run into people I don’t know while Oz and I are on walkabout, the lack of a dog with these folks was surprisingly noteworthy, and the cigarettes while out walking . . . well, that was a new one on me.

I scrutinized them a bit more as we drew closer and decided no, I didn’t recognize them. We exchanged a “hello” as our paths crossed and kept on going. Oz and I went out and back and retraced our steps a short while later, now heading east on Riverwalk, when we encountered the same couple, no longer smoking, heading west.

This time, though, the gentleman had a question for me, and as he tried to ask it, it became clear English wasn’t his first language. It wasn’t much of his language at all, and if I give you bad information after this, it’s because my interpretation was faulty.

This pair was looking to access the river, and then it turned out they weren’t trespassers at all but parents of my neighbor Mary — all the way from Bulgaria. [Not my friend Mary about whom I’ve recently written, whose house in Louisville, Colo., sustained some smoke issues and ash coverage but who at least has a place to live and can send her kids back to school tomorrow as originally scheduled.]

I did not know this about neighbor Mary. Mary and her husband Paul moved into a house already built that they purchased around the time we were building, and while I used to run into one or the other of them, along with their dog Sahara, I see them so infrequently anymore that there I was, introducing myself to people I already knew at the HOA meeting. I know Mary, an avid runner, is the director of our senior care center; Paul likes radio-controlled cars and boats; they moved here from the East Coast and have some grown children; and they are Jeep enthusiasts — but I had no idea that Mary had relatives in Bulgaria.

Until I fortuitously bumped into said relatives while out walking. I managed to direct them toward the river — they were almost at the trail they needed, anyway — and I believe I learned that someone in the family had a baby last May, and these (probably great-grandparents?) folks were returning to Bulgaria in three months.

And that was that, I thought, until we crossed literal paths for a second day in a row. This time we ended up going in the same direction, and the gentleman and I managed to exchange names. His is Georgi, or “George in American.” I did not catch the name of his wife, who doesn’t appear to speak any more English than I do Bulgarian.

But it turned out that Georgi and I (we didn’t get around to last names, and I’m quite sure I would mangle the spelling of whatever he told me) both took the same three years of German in high school, so as we walked along we managed a small conversation of sorts in a patchwork patois of English and rudimentary German learned decades ago.

I had been on the phone with my mom (“meine Mutter,” as I explained to my companions) when we started, and I got across that she lives in Denver. (Attempting to explain “Arvada” seemed a bridge too far.)

Georgi has an older sister who either is a teacher of German or teaches in Germany, and while I didn’t get the name of the city he and his wife live in it was clear that he is delighting in his daughter’s neighborhood, which is not a city like Denver and is so quiet.

With that we went our separate ways, me offering a hearty “auf wiedersehen,” the German equivalent of “see you later,” but sadly I have not seen them since. Perhaps they have moved on to visit other relatives, or perhaps they’re just smarter than me and don’t go out on days when the thermometer tops out in single digits.

What I know about Bulgaria could fit in a thimble, and I was looking forward to learning more — or making up what I thought I heard — about where they’re from. As long as it can be described with basic German nouns.

Perhaps our paths will cross again here soon, or maybe I will run across Mary or Paul and tell them how much I enjoyed meeting their relatives. And then I can also thank them for reminding me of just how charming — and filled with unexpected surprises — my neighborhood is.

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