By Ed Staskus
Steve De Luca and Maggie Campbell’s neighbors who have passed away lived in the house on the driveway side of them. The woman who was horrible to all the neighbors lived on the other side of them. The Romanian man and wife who loved them and their dogs lived behind them.
Mary and Josephine, who were sisters, lived together in the two-story brick bungalow on the east side of West Park for 62 years. Neither of them ever married. Josephine cooked hot dogs, brought them to the fence, and fed them to Steve and Maggie’s dogs every day. They hardly ever saw Mary. She hardly ever came out of the house.
After they died Steve fixed up a timer and security light in their living room and mowed their lawn every Saturday. He parked Maggie’s Honda Element in their driveway to make it look like it wasn’t vacant, at least until the house was cleaned and sold. It wasn’t the kind of neighborhood where vacant houses were safe. If they stayed vacant too long their world went tumbling down. The angel sky was only so good for so long.
There were statues of Jesus and Mary in front of a red hydrangea. They stood in Mary and Josephine’s front yard for an eternity. There were chains attached to the bases of both statues. The chains were buried beneath woody mulch and led to a bolt fixed to the side of the house. Mary and Josephine were determined to keep the holy family where they were. They didn’t want them spirited away to a sinful place.
Dawn lived with her husband Chuck on the left side of next door. She was no Mr. Rogers. She was all about nine million rainy days. Chuck bought his house long before Steve and Maggie bought theirs. He had been a confirmed bachelor until he made a mistake and got married. He was a calm polite man. Before Dawn moved in Chuck was their nice neighbor. She was not so nice, disagreeable, and noisome.
“She’s from New Jersey,” Maggie said. “She started in on us right at the start. Whenever we waved to her, she would never wave back. If she caught Chuck talking to either of us, he had to pay the price. He would sneak over to say hello and chat. The things she says to him about us I don’t even want to imagine.”
“All my time in Hell is spent with her,” Chuck said.
Dawn called the dog warden on them every other week, even when the dogs were on vacation. It was always about their dogs barking. It didn’t matter that they hardly ever barked. What she didn’t know was that the dogs were licensed, all of them, all the time.
“Here’s the thing,” the Cleveland dog warden finally told Dawn. “Their dogs are licensed, and everyone’s dogs bark sometimes, so stop barking us up.” She finally got tired of her fun and games.
“Most of the rest of our neighborhood loves it when our dogs are out,” Maggie said. “It is Dawn who gives us the most trouble. I don’t care if you’re from the bottomless pit, or not. It doesn’t give you the right to be a son of a bitch. But that’s all changed now that she needs me. When she couldn’t afford to have her hair done at the Charles Scott Salon anymore, I became good enough for her.”
“Chuck doesn’t pay for anything for the kids,” Dawn complained bitterly. She had two children from an earlier marriage. Her ex-husband had killed himself. “Everything falls on me. I have to pay for their school.” They went to the West Park Lutheran School, even though Dawn was an atheist. She didn’t have much money of her own anymore. She had blown through her dead husband’s life insurance in Atlantic City. She depended on the good graces of Chuck.
Then, when Maggie started doing her hair, knowing that she didn’t have kids herself, it was kids in her chatterbox all the time. “Do you think you could come over and watch them for a few minutes?”
“No,” Maggie said. “That’s why I don’t have kids of my own. I don’t want to sit yours.” She might have done it to be a good neighbor, but she knew Dawn would have started taking advantage of her, so she put a stop to it.
The old Romanian couple behind them bought their house the year Maggie was born. That was almost fifty years ago. They were straight out of Transylvania, which was part of Romania. Steve and Maggie could hardly understand a word they said, her more than him. His name was Anthony, but they had never been able to understand what her name was. They always called her Mrs. Anthony.
Everything in their big back yard was a farm. They grew everything they ate, except for animals, in the back yard during the summer. When Steve and Maggie first moved into the neighborhood, they had grandkids who fed their dogs doggie cookies.
They would hear the pack of them while sitting on their back porch. “Can we go see the dogs?” they asked. “Go, go,” their grandpa said.
The children had become teenagers, but they still came to visit their grandparents. The dogs always ran to the back fence and lined up, waiting. “You can’t stop the feedbag now. You have to keep giving them cookies,” Maggie told the teens.
Steve showed the dogs the lay of the land every day. He stopped and talked to their neighbors. They asked him about the dogs, so a lot of them found out they rescued dogs, finding them better homes. “That is so cool,” one of them said. That’s how they came to be called the Dog People. That’s what they’re known as. One day a distraught lady was walking up and down the street looking for her lost Dachshund.
“Did you try the dog people,” everybody asked.
“Have you seen my dog?” she asked Maggie.
“No, but I’ll keep an eye out for the wiener,” she said.
Sometimes neighbors donated dog food to them. They found 40-pound bags of it left on their front porch. It was nice to have a little community support.
They started taking their tail-waggers to the dog park in the Rocky River Metropark instead of walking them because their Husky was a screamer. The second they put a leash on him the wailing started. It sounded like somebody was ripping out his toenails. He screamed the whole way on the way. Neighbors came out to make sure they weren’t torturing their dogs. Explaining got to be so embarrassing, Steve put their excursions to a stop. He drove them to the Metropark, instead.
But the Husky hated the dog park, too. He didn’t like other people or other dogs coming up to him, or even up to his folks. One day they thought they would hide from him so he would learn to run around with other dogs. They hid behind a tree. But what happened was unsettling. He ran around like a madman looking for them.
“Steve, we can’t hide from him,” Maggie said. “He’s never going to relax.”
When they came out from hiding and he saw them he ran over right away. “He’s back to guarding us again,” Maggie told Steve. “He’s giving us his warm glow.”
One of their neighbors fell in love with Grayson, their silver Lab, after he sniffed out who had bolt cut the Jesus and Mary statues and stolen them. Steve set them in cement so it wouldn’t happen again. Grayson had a great nose and was a cutie patootie, too. The neighbor lady did everything she could to get them to give Grayson to her.
“He’s not for sale,” Maggie said. “He’s my dog.”
“But I love him,” she said.
“We love him, too,” Maggie said.
One morning they took Grayson to Project Runway on Whiskey Island to a fundraiser for dog shelters. From there, later in the afternoon, they did Doggies on the Patio, another fundraiser. It was a long day. Afterwards they took him out for gelato. He loved it, the whole day, and the gelato. Maggie could never sell him. She couldn’t see that happening. It didn’t matter that he kept trying to sneak upstairs to sleep on their bed.
Besides, Grayson had issues with Dawn, and was their early warning system, barking up a storm whenever she was in range. When she was, the Lab got going to the firing range. He never said a prayer, knowing he could get it done without any divine help.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”