On a sultry California day in September of 1997, I was introduced to my new neighborhood of City Heights. When I told my friends where my new living quarters were going to be, the first question asked was, “why City Heights?” My reply was, that I was moving from a one bedroom into a two bedroom apartment on the first floor for less money. Not knowing anything about my new neighborhood, I was counting on my friend’s recommendation, that this was the right place for me .

For the first two years I didn’t see or talk to anyone because I worked the second shift. I knew there were 25 other people living in my apartment complex, but didn’t know who they were or anybody’s names. After another job change, now working the day shift, I began to meet my neighbors.

The first neighbor I met was an eccentric character named Nathaniel. He had snow-white hair, a long ponytail and a gray beard that surrounded his bright and cheery face. He introduced himself to me, and welcomed me to the neighborhood. He liked to tell me jokes and would laugh at the punch line as if it was the first time he had heard the joke. Nathaniel was a kind and gentle soul. He was very thoughtful, always thinking of others. I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. He loved to do puzzles and would sit outside on the picnic table for hours patiently putting a 1000 piece puzzle together, even working on the puzzle into the dark of night. He got so creative one time that he put a lamp over the puzzle so he could see to continue working on his much loved hobby.

Nathaniel spent a lot of his free time volunteering at Christ Church Unity, which is a part of our neighborhood. It is located just next door to our apartment complex. On special occasions the church give out flowers to their members. If there were any left over Nathaniel gather them up and brought them to all of his neighbors in the complex. One Easter morning we found that he had carefully placed a white carnation in the middle of each apartment’s screen door. Nathaniel loved life and loved people. He walked to the bus stop on a daily basis and he knew practically everybody along the way. One of his great delights was going to the Claire De Lune Coffee House, located on University Ave, in North Park, where he started a friendship club. All you had to do to join this club was to promise to be a friend to someone, and love your neighbor. He would assign you a number and then you were a member of his friendship club. My number is 777. He was pleased when a visitor to San Diego promised to start a new friendship club in their foreign country. Nathaniel’s goal was to reach 1,000 members by his birthday on June 28, 2008. Unfortunately Nathaniel got sick and after a short stay in the hospital, Nathaniel passed away just before his birthday. I have visions of Nathaniel inviting everyone in heaven to join his friendship club. Nathaniel is missed by all of us. When ever I see a man with long white hair, a pony tail and a full white beard I look twice to see if it’s Nathaniel. He will always be in my thoughts and in my heart.

Nathaniel was excited to introduce me to the rest of our neighbors. One Sunday afternoon we had a pot luck, a get to know your neighbor barbeque. At this pot luck I met the rest of the residents in our complex.

We are like a little community. Everyone has their own apartment and their own lives, but we still watch out for one another. If we don’t see someone for a day or so, we check up on that person to make sure they are all right. Some of us have a role to play in this little community. One lady is known as the patriarch. If we need advice or something like a band-aid, we know we can go to her and most likely she will have it. We have another young couple who have two beautiful children. She is from South East Asia, he is from Mexico and is knowledgeable about computers. When our computer is not working properly we ask him for advice on how to fix it. Another one of our residents knows a lot about cars. So when one of our cars breaks down, we turn to him for help. One of our neighbors, Richard, is very strong, so when a person needs a helping hand moving something heavy, we call on him and he gladly obliges.

My role is to provide transportation to who ever needs a ride when their car breaks down. Since I am a care provider, when somebody needs to go to the doctor, they usually call on me for assistance. Most of our families live far away. There were two incidents when our neighbors had to go to the hospital and one of the tenants was there to accompany them. It is a nice feeling to know we all care about one another and are willing to go the extra mile for that person.

Our neighborhood is a diverse area. We have many cultures from East Africa, Ethiopia, the Middle East and Somalia. Recently the Vietnamese community has moved in. We have a wide variety of cultures all living together in our neighborhood. Our community in this complex is also diversified. We have African Americans, Spanish, Mong and North Americans. Many of us are from different cultures, but one of the lessons Nathaniel demonstrated for us to carry on is that we are to “Love your neighbor as yourselves.“ Thank you Nathaniel for welcoming me to this neighborhood.

Roberta Dexter 9/26/08

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