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It Started With a Porch

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by Joe Arena

arena farewell

The first time Cheryl and I came into Corn Hill was for the Holiday House Tour in December 1992. I remember walking down Troup Street, pointing to a house and telling Cheryl, “Look. There are carolers on that porch.” The carolers were all dressed up and singing wonderful Christmas songs. Eight months later, we bought that very house where the carolers sang.

At the time of the tour, Cheryl and I had been looking for a house in the city. We settled on Park Avenue and nowhere else. One evening, our realtor Richard Sarkis called to ask if he could show us Corn Hill. Other than a festival or two, and that Holiday House Tour, we knew nothing about the neighborhood. We said okay and met Richard the next day. He showed us a couple of houses—one new, one old and one in need of a lot of work (that house on Avery Mall still does).

He took us into the last house that he wanted us to see and we fell in love with it. We returned to work telling our friends that we would be purchasing an 1870 house in Corn Hill. Our friends asked the usual questions: “What is the electrical system?” “Is the plumbing updated?” “How about the roof?” Cheryl and I could not answer a simple question. All we knew was that the house had called out to us and we answered.

We moved in August ‘93. Our first morning, we walked down to a diner called Bits. It was apparent that our fellow customers all knew each other. There were handshakes, laughter and conversations across tables. We knew that we had made the right decision in moving here. Bits didn’t last long after we arrived, replaced by the Corn Hill Cookery and then by Panzari’s.

joe & cheryl arena youngerWe knew right away that Corn Hill was a special place. One morning, Cheryl took our dog for a walk around the block. The walk took her over 45 minutes. Worried, I met her at the door and asked her what had happened to her; that walk should have been completed in less than 10 minutes. “I met a few neighbors,” she said. “We stopped and talked. It was really nice.”

Cheryl and I began to look forward to our dog walks together. These walks usually included nice conversations with yet unknown neighbors. We had a difficult time, at first, remembering everyone’s name. Initially, we referred to them by their dog’s name. “You remember,” I’d say, “they’re Rocky and Bullwinkle’s parents.”

Coming from the suburbs, we weren’t really sure about living in “the city.” A good friend of ours told us stories from her youth when she couldn’t tell her mother that she was visiting a friend on Clarissa St. We heard rumors that pizza shops wouldn’t deliver here. At one of our first neighborhood meetings, they passed out little “personal alarms.” These were small battery-operated devices with a pull pin. Pulling out the pin would result in an ear-piercing 100-decibel alarm. For several months, we took those alarms with us on every walk, fingers on the pin, waiting for the moment when we would have to activate it. We soon discovered that our fears were unfounded and we felt pretty silly holding our little alarms. Into a closet they went, only to be found 2 decades later, still in working condition and still unnecessary.

Prior to moving here, Cheryl and I tried to get involved in a couple of organizations, with mixed results. We were hoping that our arrival into Corn Hill might give us the opportunities we desired. Looking back, I can safely say that those desires were fulfilled 100-fold.

There was an article in the first Gazette that we read, asking if any resident wanted to take over the role of the Gazette editor. I thought it might be interesting so I called the number in the Gazette and scheduled an appointment with Jeff Brown, the current editor. Jeff told me what was involved and I told him I’d think about it. I never heard back from him. There was an article in the next month’s Gazette announcing a new editor had been found. Me! And so I began a three-year stint as editor. Cheryl was the Gazette’s official C.A.Q.—Clip Art Queen. In those days, clip art was just that, art that was cut out of magazines and taped to the copy given to the printer.

We purchased our house from Bob and Marion Sherwood. They had been very involved in the neighborhood in the ‘80s. After moving in, we would hear from neighbors, “Oh, you live in the Sherwood house.” I don’t know exactly when it happened but somewhere between year 5 and 10 our house became “The Arena’s.” I knew then that we had truly found a home.

joe & cheryl arena older

Over 27 wonderful years, Cheryl and I have been fortunate to work alongside so many incredible neighbors who quickly became our friends. When I lived in the Town of Greece, I didn’t know the names of people on either side of me. In Corn Hill, I began thinking of people four and five blocks away as my neighbors. Some of them eventually moved away, others passed on. Whenever someone left a position, another incredible neighbor stepped in to fill it.

I count our years on Troup Street by remembering which committees we served on or what houses were on the House Tour. 27 years! It seems like only yesterday that we were new kids on the block, eating our first breakfast at Bits.

All good things must end. For Cheryl and me, that time has come. Having endured sixty-two upstate NY winters, we are turning in our snow shovels for beach umbrellas and moving down to the Sunshine State. We will, however, forever consider ourselves Corn Hillers. The neighborhood has become a part of us, a part that we never want to lose.