I knew I met a kindred spirit in Barbara Smith when I noticed she was a "watcher."
That she, like me, would take notice of things in our Woodlawn neighborhood that others might not. We both relied on public transportation so we had the opportunity to walk around and see the changes that don't quite register when you're zooming past in a car.
While we lived next door to one another, it's been during the last five years that our neighborly nods grew into a friendship.
So it was with utter shock & profound sadness that I discovered that she was the homicide victim I wrote about yesterday.
Frankly, I still can't believe she's gone.
We got to know each other when I would water my flowers on the back porch and she'd be sitting on hers catching a breeze or having a morning cup of coffee. Barbara was always complimentary about my gardening skills and if memory serves me correctly, she mentioned that she wanted to give container gardening a try this year.
She and I would discuss the comings and goings of our neighborhood; our disdain for litterers and the wildlife that took up residence in the garage of the building where she lived. We were also unemployed roughly around the same time period so we'd discuss the frustration of our job searches.
Family, relationships, gardening---it was all fair game; but Barbara will forever be linked in my mind with the type of person you need to have as your neighbor. The person who knows everyone and everyone knows them. The person who possesses the intermediary skills of a U.N. diplomat but with street smarts.
The person who respects your privacy but still keeps an eye on you.
That's the type of neighbor you want.
And that's the type of neighbor I had.
Barbara wasn't showy. She wasn't the person who could pick up the phone and get something done in our neighborhood with one call. She didn't have "juice" and she didn't have "pull."
She had something much better.
She was a part of the subtle process that is rescuing Woodlawn from our troubled past. With every friend she made, every conversation she had and every piece of wayward litter that she picked up she quietly affirmed that she was not letting others from outside of Woodlawn decide our fate.
You see she helped build our community. Something that others say is sorely lacking on the south side.
Now the same community that she was such an important part of mourns her death.
I miss her in so many ways already.
But not as much as when the flowers bloom this summer.