An Albany Neighborhood Comes Together for One Last Hurrah with Exiting Friends (The Final Word Opinion Column)

Leaving Albany: Ode to a city neighborhood

Patty and Smitty are leaving Albany. Their kids are grown, and Smitty is tired of fixing things in their lovely, old house in their lovely, old neighborhood. When their furnace died this spring, he had had enough. They are building a new house in a new development. Their nearly 25-year tenure on the block is ending. So the block threw another party, this one to say farewell.

It was organized by four families, and about two dozen couples chipped in to cover the cost of food, drink, and party favors. The rain stopped just in time to set up the tables and chairs on the driveway that Mark and Ron, who hosted, share with Joe and Kathy.

After drinks and dinner, Kathleen transformed an empty bottle of Riesling — Patty’s favorite — into the talking stick, and started the toasts and roasts. Even though Patty and Smitty aren’t much older than most of their neighbors, they have always been the block’s de facto parents. Patty, a nurse, was on call 24/7 for any medical question or treatment. Smitty would always lend a helping hand. And of course they were front and center at the many parties this remarkable block has held during their time here.

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This is the kind of neighborhood that people in the suburbs lament. Here, everyone does know his and her neighbor, not just by name but also by family history, by temperament, by character, even by eccentricity and annoying habit. While they all float in at least one, and more likely all three, of Albany’s strongest currents — Irish, Catholic, Democrat — they celebrate their differences as well, and despite them navigate life’s whitewater together. Those three shared currents and the various unique tributaries merge here, on this block, into a deep and soothing confluence of family, community, and fun.

So the toasts and roasts covered how Patty and Smitty were solid shoulders during difficult times and enthusiastic cheerleaders during happy times. Paul told a funny one about how Patty came over at three in the morning when Leslie went into labor. Nearly everyone had a story about Patty ministering to a child’s illness or injury. Sharon told how thrilled she and Sean were to finally do a favor for them — Sean restored their son’s crashed computer — only to find a box of Omaha steaks delivered soon after. “Patty got one up on us again — the bitch!” Sharon laughed. Jennie remembered the dessert contest, which Patty won by suggesting that the kids serve as judges, then whipping up a box of store-bought brownie mix with frosting and sprinkles, which of course the kids preferred to all the fancier entries. “I wore my daughter’s tiara the rest of the day!” Patty boasted.

Kathleen presented Patty and Smitty with the block’s going-away gift, an oil painting of their old house to hang in their new home, and said how everyone will miss them and envy their new windows, which open and shut easily. Patty cried, as she always does, and told everyone how lucky she and Smitty were to have such great friends.

Then it was back to partying. Laura, Molly, and Caroline, who were hired to serve and clear, rolled their teenage eyes as the grown-ups laughed too much and drank too much and, as they always do, had more fun than parents should have in public. They bit their teenage lips as Beth and Sharon and Sean and both Pauls, as they always do, sang too loudly and danced too vigorously to ancient songs from the ’70s and ’80s. But the teenagers also learned, as all the neighborhood kids have learned at these block parties, how a community comes together, how families support and celebrate one another, how a neighborhood should be.

As things wound down, Patty reminded everyone that they’d be back for future parties — Karl and Bridget’s biennial Thanksgiving party, whoever throws this year’s Christmas party, maybe another Mardi Gras bash at Mark and Ron’s (though the last one got way out of hand). Then Smitty invited everyone to visit them in their new home. They aren’t moving to Alaska, after all, just to Watervliet. It’s only seven miles away; Francis Phelan would have walked there in Ironweed. But it’s not Albany. Nobody at the party knew exactly where their new home was. Nobody had ever been to that particular area before. And there was another problem they would face, leaving Albany, as Mike yelled from somewhere near the bar: Republicans live there. Everyone laughed — even the Republicans.

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