Our One-Woman Neighborhood Association

For most of the last fourteen years, our neighborhood association didn’t do much. Newsletters showed up in my mailbox a couple of times a year with contact information for the current officers, a plea for volunteers to chair one of several committees, and of course, a gentle reminder that paying membership fees (a minimal $10 to $25 per year) was not optional. Life was good.

Then the association started hosting potluck cook-outs several times a year. We went for a while. Hated it.

Don’t get me wrong–I like my neighbors, especially those I never see or hear. What’s his name and his wife seem nice. I wave when we pass each other on the street. Stopping to catch up on neighborhood gossip doesn’t really fit into my schedule. Because getting cozy with the neighbors seriously threatened the aloofness we worked hard to maintain, we quit going to the potlucks. We had to, before they dragged us into the inner circle.

Thanks to Marbles, the association has become “more engaged” with the residents. Marbles lives in the over-landscaped house near the entrance to our subdivision.  She’s always out in her front yard, working tirelessly to keep her teeming borders and bulging islands heavily mulched and free of weeds.

I suspect Marbles is a plant hoarder–like a crazy lady with cats only instead of cats, she obsesses about her garden. Marbles planted hundreds of ornamental shrubs and trees in her front yard, right on top of each other. She keeps buying new plants, cramming them in with the rest. It’s too much…way too much.

I’m on to her. She buys more when she runs out of reasons to stay in her front yard.  She’s up on everything that happens in our neighborhood. She sees every car that comes in or out of the subdivision. Many stop, roll down the window and idle to chat with her, blocking traffic in both directions.

She also stops to talk with every walker, and as needed, walks through the neighborhood to make sure everything is up to her standards. She knows who cleans up after their dogs and who doesn’t. It’s her business to know these things.

Marbles has a very clear picture of the way our neighborhood should look and lots of ideas about how we should act. Her first move was to claim the chairmanship of the landscaping committee. She organized regular work days and called for volunteers to help her clean up the plantings on either side of the entrance to our subdivision. This gave her a new vantage point and more room for plants.

Two years later, our entrance is as over-planted as her front yard. She rips all the flowers out every few months, replacing them with something more appropriate for the season.  Please pay your dues because we need more annuals and mulch.

She fills the entrance with little American flags for Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veteran’s Day; pumpkins and corn stalks for Halloween and Thanksgiving; and pine garlands with red bows for Christmas. She sends out messages requesting help for all these tasks, but generally ends up doing all the work. She’s tireless in her efforts to present our neighborhood in a positive light.

Slowly but surely, she collected e-mail addresses for just about everyone in the neighborhood. She was quite aggressive about it. She stopped me when I was walking the dogs and asked for my e-mail address. I rattled it off and figured she’d never remember it. But she did.

Marbles started sending “reports” about the activities of the landscape committee she chaired. These reports included an itemized accounting of the staggering cost of improvements to the entryway plantings ($300 for mulch alone). To distract us from all the money she spent, each report ended with a cheery note about thousands of dollars in labor costs saved because people volunteered to mow, pull weeds, and maintain the area.

Now she messages the entire neighborhood once or twice a week. The messages are very chatty, with information about new families in the ‘hood, or illnesses and major life events occurring in the lives of the rest of us.  She’s changed her title, too. Now she’s the Landscape and Beautification Chair. Heil Marbles!

Every message includes at least one thing that totally pisses me off. She reminded us that piling landscape trash along the curb more than ten days before the scheduled quarterly pick up is illegal.  She said association officers were talking about cracking down on houses where trash receptacles were visible from the street–in clear violation of the neighborhood covenants.  More recently she shared her concern about the shabby appearance of many mailboxes in our neighborhood with a suggestion to pick up a can of spray paint. Oh and please pay your dues. If everyone paid, she could buy the mulch needed for the massive entryway planting she’s installed.

This month, Marbles wanted to let the police know how much we appreciate them. On November 29, she requested volunteers via e-mail to help her put together gift baskets to drop off at police headquarters.  This year, in addition to thanking the police, it had been suggested that the neighborhood collectively show appreciation for our wonderful mailman.  Money would do.

On December 17: “Just a reminder that we will be out and knocking on doors today thru Tuesday. Your gift doesn’t have to be much; just small quantities of cookies, baked goods, pecans, fruit, a small child’s toy, hand lotion, a dog toy or anything you can share. You can leave it at my front door but just remember to put a note with your name and address on it. I have collected three dollars for the mailman. Giving just $.50 to $1.00 would provide enough money for a gift certificate. If everyone contributes he can take his wife out for a nice dinner.”

On December 18:  “I will leave the baskets in my front yard. To those of you who dropped something off yesterday I thank you. It is so much more convenient for you to drop something off rather than have me show up at your door. Make sure to leave your name as I am keeping a list for the card. We now have $6.00 for the mailman.”

Monday’s message: “We now have $23.00 for the mailman. We were hoping for $50.00 for a gift certificate. Our neighborhood has 63 households.  I will put the wagon out before 10 am this morning. Just put something in it with your name on it. You can leave something at my front door if you do not see the wagon. The plan is to deliver the baskets to the police around 1pm tomorrow. Collecting from the neighbors on either side of you would be helpful.”

Tuesday morning: “This is your last chance to put something in the baskets for the police. I will be taking it to the Willow Street Station since the building on the East side is under renovation. Please join us in this effort to show our collective appreciation. I have collected everything from an entire cake to a box of hot chocolate mix and even a toy.  We now have  $ 63.00 for the mailman. You can still add to that as I will give him his gift card on Thursday or Friday.”

Tuesday afternoon: “I know you must be tired of my emails so hopefully this will be my last for a while. I delivered the baskets to the Willow Street precinct this afternoon. Major Green accepted them on behalf of our policemen. They were very appreciative and even a little excited to get into the baskets. They expressed their thanks to you. We collected $70.00 for the mailman. I am attaching a letter with your names. If your name is not on it and it should be please let me know so that I can make a correction. I will get him a universal gift card and give it to him Thursday.”

Marbles rang our doorbell twice–once in the morning and once in the evening on different days. Fortunately, having received advanced notice of her impending visit via e-mail, I was in the back of the house and didn’t answer the door. I’m sure she let the police and mailman know who gave and who did not.  She’s probably hoping someone will steal the mail out of the shabby mailbox in front of…

My Glass House