Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of moving to West Dundee. We had a horse nearby and I was friends with the stable owner’s daughter who lived right smack in the center of downtown, facing Grafelman Park. I remember hot summers at the playground there, back when it was called Tower Park. I recall a slide, a water tower, and dragging my feet through gravel to stop the swing. That swing just felt like home.
Years later, I’d cover board meetings as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Every Monday night for four years, I’d drive to the old West Dundee village hall building with its creaky wooden stairs and listen to how the people in this small town ran it. No vehicle stickers? No garbage fees? Protecting open space? I loved it all the more.
Sometimes, I’d get to the meeting early, and drive around looking at the historic houses. The neighborhood that appealed to me most was Old Town. Every Monday night, I’d drive home from the meeting but I’d get this odd feeling that I was going the opposite direction of home. That all made sense when I moved here thirteen and a half years ago. I now live in Old Town.
I have an old house on a quiet, dead-end street near a gorgeous park with a gazebo. From my second story porch, I have a view of families canoeing and small fishing boats motoring by. Every morning I can watch the sun reach its rays over 100-year-old trees and reflect off the Fox River’s peaceful flow. But what makes this house special is the family who lives (or lived) next door to me, a family that just moved away yesterday.
The Ottingers made it clear they were going to take care of us even before we met them. We arrived in late November. I remember trudging through leaves to get to the front door. I made a mental note to sweep once I got some cleaning done, but when I went out to do that, Nancy Ottinger had already taken care of it.
Over the years, Jack Ottinger has fixed countless things for us, helped us install a screen door, loaned us tools, gave us advice, and filled our bike tires with air in the springtime. We’ve enjoyed wine coolers on their deck where they have a wooden swing. I mentioned that I loved the swing, and from then on, I had “swinging rights.” Whenever they were away on vacation, I’d take advantage of that.
Nancy was a combination of night watchman and mother hen. She’d call us to let us know that we left our garage door open, alert us about a nearby skunk, or any other potential harm on our street. She’d give us eggs, lettuce, butter, whatever you needed in a pinch. She mowed our lawn three times when my husband had shoulder surgery.
When they started packing, I was the recipient of many items because the Ottingers are givers. We have some of their furniture, vases, food and firewood. They won’t take money for things and I’ve learned to stop offering because they find it offensive.
Yesterday, a young couple moved into a house that was loved and cared for by the Ottingers for over 30 years. It was odd to see these strangers in their house, but change as we know is constant, just like the flow of the Fox River. It is no longer the Ottingers’ house, but as I looked over, I saw Nancy on the deck. She was, no doubt, giving instructions about the house to the new occupants. I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, but I offered a final wave from my driveway and thought, “That’s just like Nancy to take care of the new owners.”
I’ll miss summer evenings listening to stories about Jack and Nancy when they were in high school, fun times with their friends, old cars, and pranks. As I’d listen, I’d swing on that beautiful wooden swing Jack made. We took a picture of the four of us – Jack, Nancy, my husband Tom and I – in front of the swing the day we said our goodbyes. Something about that swing just felt like home.