Rose Lopez-Brown reached for a napkin to catch the tears falling from her face.
“It’s going to be really sad to see you leave,” she said to 88-year-old Eleanor Riser, sitting two seats away at a barbecue lunch gathering of neighbors from the Los Cedros neighborhood in central Santa Fe.
“She’s been a really dear friend, a neighbor,” Lopez-Brown said to the rest of the assembly.
Riser, who moved to the neighborhood about a mile west of Santa Fe High School with her late husband Harry in 1973, is bidding goodbye to her neighbors and her home to relocate into an assisted living facility in town.
Also moving is longtime neighbor Arlene Decker, 86, who arrived in 1972 and also is transitioning into an assisted-living facility. Decker and Riser say it’s not just time taking its toll on them but the weight of having to care for a house that once was full of children, family, laughter, future.
It’s a transition not uncommon in Santa Fe — and in neighborhoods like Los Pedros — as demographics shift. The scenes are repeated in places with names like Bellamah, Casa Alegre and Casa Solana, subdivisions that saw Kennedy-to-Trump changes as residents built lives and raised kids, grandkids, even great-grandkids.
For this tightly-knit band of some dozen neighbors who for the most part lived side by side for 40, 45, even 50-plus years, the departure of two stalwart members of the neighborhood is a reason for crying — but only after nearly two hours of storytelling, laughter and the sharing of memories.
Times change, that’s for sure. The old-fashioned telephones mounted on the walls of many of these one-story houses on Camino Chueco, built by the late developer Allen Stamm in the 1960s and 1970s, have mostly given way to cellphones and other forms of communication. The fledgling locust tree that Riser’s daughter Ellen could touch the top of back in the 1970s has grown into a roughly 60-foot giant, casting a swatch of shade over the front yard.
In the old days, Halloween meant a mob of kids clad in holiday attire ringing doorbells and yelling, “Trick or treat!”
These days, the neighbors say, you don’t see much of that kind of activity. “We didn’t have any trick-or-treaters last year,” said Kiyoko Cohen, another neighbor.
Still, through the passage of time, some things have remained steady. It was always the neighbors — regular folks who came from different parts of the country, blended with those already here, and learned to look out for one another.
“We know how to fight — that’s why we get along,” Decker said to welcome laughter during the lunch. “Everyone does their own thing, but if any one of us needs something, they’ll be there for you.”
And they have been — keeping an eye on each other’s children; showing up at the front door with soup and comfort food when someone fell sick or died; keeping tabs if someone in the group stopped showing up for regular evening walks.
They still can share the stories they all know by rote — like about attending the 100th birthday party for the late Sadie Quesenberry, born Dec. 31, 1900, when everyone showed up with sparklers and food and buckets of love. She lived another four years and remained articulate, lucid and caring until the end, Decker said.
Then there was the house down the street bought by the lady who worked at Playboy magazine that became home to a bunch of college-age renters: First some girls and then some boys. The girls were fine, the neighbors say, tipping off the elder residents that they planned a big party and begging them not to call the police if things got too loud. The boys, on the other hand, were boys, and climbed up on the roof at 2 a.m. to dance one night.
They can remember how much their houses cost back then, too. The Risers paid $29,000 in 1973. Mary Urioste paid $17,000 in 1968. Annie Ortiz and her husband paid $18,000. Joshua and Kiyoko Cohen, who moved to the neighborhood in the late 1970s, shelled out considerably more as prices rose: $50,000.
Today the houses would run in the $300,000 to $315,000 range, said Lopez-Brown, a Realtor.
But that kind of money can’t buy friendship and loyalty the way those living in those homes can, said Mary Ann Howley, another longtime resident.
“People — that’s what makes a neighborhood,” she said.
They worry that things won’t be the same — not just after Riser and Decker leave, but as new folks move in who may not be accustomed to sharing such close neighborly connections. Many of those new folks are older and either have kids who have grown up and moved away, or no kids at all — draining the neighborhood of a youthful vitality and the sound of playing children.
More troubling, there have been more incidents of crime — break-ins, for example — in the past few years, the neighbors say.
They wonder if city sprawl and development-driven greed will creep in as well.
“Urbanization? I left Boston to get away from urbanization,” said Joshua Cohen.
Riser and Decker say it’s time to move on and let younger members of the group take the lead, but Urioste, 88, says she’s not leaving her home “until I hit the dirt.” Her son will likely take over the house and keep neighborhood traditions going, she said.
It’s unclear what will happen to Riser’s house, though her daughter said she’d like to find a way to buy it.
Meanwhile, Decker remained philosophical. “We’ll probably shed a few tears as we leave, but that’s OK,” she said. “God gave them to us.”
But even she wonders if things can ever be the same — not just in this tiny enclave on Camino Chueco, but everywhere in Santa Fe where time marches on and neighborhoods are changed, person by person, house by house.
“It’s not just this neighborhood that needs care,” Decker said. “It’s the whole world.”
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly called the neighborhood the neighbors live in Los Pedros. The name is Los Cedros.