When driving down Calderwood Street in Los Altos, you might get the sense that you are in a typical Long Beach neighborhood. The houses are quaint, people are often walking their dogs, and children are playing outside. But the neighborhood on Calderwood Street has something that makes it particularly special; its residents have the “Lawn Bar.”
It all started many years ago with Mary Jo Leftwich, “M.J.” for short. “She was grand central station,” as they put it. She befriended everyone on the block and slowly created a family of residents whose home base was her front lawn. M.J. would sit on her porch every afternoon around 3:30 p.m. with a glass of wine and slowly neighbors would trickle over as they came home from work.
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Most of the time a colorful windsock hanging from one of the trees on her lawn would indicate that the “Lawn Bar” was underway. The 20 or so lawn chairs would quickly become occupied as neighbors came over, and the tables in the yard filled up with trays of snacks and savory treats for the group to share.
M.J. would have to tell guests that 7:00 p.m. was the time when everyone would have to go back to their own lawns, or else she would never get to have dinner. It would have been easy for the conversations and visiting to extend late into the night hours. Nonetheless, the “Lawn Bar” was an almost daily ritual that M.J. was at the heart of.
For more than 20 years, M.J.’s yard was the place that brought the neighborhood together. The yard still has its various potted plants and landscaping that is reminiscent of the desert. Propped on the front porch are pieces of artwork that she loved.
“M.J. was more than Lawn Bar, much more. She was the epitome of an example of what it means to perform “good deeds,” said resident Cindy Skovgard.
It is evident when you talk to the neighbors on Calderwood that M.J. is the constant thread in each of their anecdotes.
In the summer of 2017 M.J. passed away from a variety of health issues, but her spirit and love for life is still ever present when you visit the Lawn Bar, and when you talk with the people who loved and knew her best.
From helping one another with car problems to watching each other’s children, the good deeds that happen in their neighborhood might have started with the “Lawn Bar,” but have grown to become part of the neighborhood’s identity.
The stories and memories on the following pages depict what it means to be part of their neighborhood, and how at the center of it all was a caring person who always gave back, brought people together, and made her own spirit of love contagious.
It takes a village
As a resident of Calderwood for the past 7 years and one of the more recent additions to the block my daughter and I have been the recipients of more “good deeds” from my neighbors than anyone could imagine. Right from the get-go our home had neighborly love built into its bones.
Good deeds sometimes come in small gestures. And sometimes even people who do not appear to need good deeds do in fact need them more than anyone would ever have guessed.
For the past 7 years my daughter has been positively affected by each and every resident of our street. Whether it’s help with homework, endless hours of playing with kids and dogs from the block, a warm meal, a hug, or tremendous conversations and life lessons while sitting on
porches, most kids would dream of these kinds of magical experiences. I cannot imagine finding the support and daily help we receive from our fellow neighbors anywhere else on this planet. This is a place where each and every resident looks out for each other selflessly. We are so thankful.
“There’s one thing about the “Lawn Bar” that you should know, it naturally combusts. It is never planned. It would start with M.J. sitting outside, and then slowly people would come by, and before you knew it we had 15-20 people sitting outside on her lawn talking.
The sun shines on M.J.’s porch so beautifully in the afternoon, so she would sit outside with a glass of wine and would read. As we would all trickle home from work people would slowly come over to hang out.
Everyone brings something great to this community and we all really rely on each other. For example, Richard is our neighborhood contractor. He is always willing to do anything for everyone. If something broke, he would be down there in a few minutes trying to fix it for you.
There are so many good deeds, but another one that comes to mind is when my daughter got married two years ago, she wanted her bridal party to meet and greet at our house. So it turned out that we had about 14 people staying at our house. My husband and I were so exhausted, so Joe and Margie invited us to spend the night at their house and they made us dinner, and what a gift that was! We were so tired and they really saved us. That’s what this community does. Our other neighbor Brad also did the music at my daughter’s wedding and it was beautiful.
Since M.J.’s passing away it has been difficult for us not having her here, but she has left us this beautiful legacy that is driving all of us to make more of an effort and stay connected with one another. That is M.J.’s gift to all of us.
M.J. reached out to everyone, helped everyone, and cared for everyone, and we in turn cared for her as she aged. She lived life on her terms till the end, and the spirit of her love of life and of her neighbors and friends lives on.”
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“Another thing we do on this street is a sort of “Stroll and Savor” down the block for New Year’s Eve. We all go to each other’s houses and then we end up at one person’s house for the remainder of the evening. It is always a lot of fun!
I’m sure you sense how important MJ was to all of us, but she really changed a lot of our lives. She was such a giver and a lover of helping people, it was ingrained in her. And in turn she ingrained that same sense of community into all of us. From the little things she would do like leaving produce on our front porch, or simply inviting us over to talk with her. It was all so meaningful.
She even brought us into the group from half a block down to be part of this “hood,” and we couldn’t be happier that she did. I mean just look at how she brought people together and the type of neighborhood that she has left for people. It’s amazing.”
“I remember that one time our washer broke down, and I have a family of six, so that is never a good thing. Well, M.J. told me to bring all of my laundry over at the end of the day. I ended up taking 1 load home, and then MJ took it upon herself to do the other two loads for me and she folded it, put it back in the hamper and brought it to me.
Another thing that often happens in the neighborhood is when I’m coming home from the grocery store, the kids in the neighborhood would arbitrarily see me and would come help me take in the groceries. They are always popping over and asking me if I need help with any of the kids.
For a while I was drowning without outside help for the kids. Since my [extended] family isn’t here, this neighborhood really became a family for myself and my kids. I appreciate that so much.
There is another friend of ours in the neighborhood who works at Trader Joe’s and she is always texting us to give us the weekly specials. It really comes in handy sometimes!”
“Joe used to teach my sons how to play baseball. My son Jack was a great pitcher and is now at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. My other son Max was the catcher at Wilson, and now my youngest Chad still plays at Wilson. I always have really good memories looking back to the days when Joe was teaching them how to play. It’s great to have someone in the neighborhood who is willing to put in that time with your children.”
“We all came over to M.J.’s house, so she was really the broadcaster of information. She’d make her rounds at people’s houses and would go around checking up on everyone. But what was really special was that we all had a different 1 on 1 relationship with her, and she would make you feel like it was just you and her, even though it was rare to just be one-on-one with her.
When M.J. passed away our group texts really went into high gear, since before that it was her that kept us all connected.
There are so many good memories from living in this neighborhood. A couple years ago my husband and I did a remodel on our home, and we were happy with it. Well, a while later he said it was time for us to think of moving on. And I said, “Are you crazy?” We are not moving! I don’t have any children of my own, so the children in the neighborhood are like my kids and grandkids. When I’m 80 years old I want these kids to be the ones coming over and saying hi to me. I’m not ever leaving this neighborhood, I love it way too much.”
M.J. had a garden and she was always dropping off little piles of produce on everyone’s door steps in the neighborhood. Daily she would also take the food to homeless shelters and would do what she could.
Another amazing thing is that M.J. would always have people from all over and different families internationally that would come to stay with her. I’m not sure what program it was through, but I remember one time she had students from Tasmania visiting and we threw a huge party for them! There must have been 40 of us that were gathered for this party and it was so much fun!”
“Just earlier today Richard came over to help me fix one of the plugs that went out in our house, and when he came in he was like “I’ll be back tomorrow, there are a few things I need to fix.” It’s things like that, that really make this neighborhood so special to live in.
I remember one of my first experiences on this block was when I was pregnant and again, Richard saw me struggling with my car and he came right over with tools and fixed the whole thing for me!
I think we really got to know everyone in the neighborhood when we got our dog. I was out one day walking him, and then some of the kids from the neighborhood came over and that’s sort of how we all connected. Everyone started coming over and bringing their dogs and it started from there.
Whenever I tell people about our neighborhood they always say how lucky we are, and I couldn’t agree more! I always tell them that we are never moving. We love it here.”
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End Note: The “Lawn Bar” is still an integral part of the neighborhood today. M.J.’s son owns her house and rents it out to resident Cindy Skovgard’s son Chris, who grew up in the neighborhood and fondly remembers the “Lawn Bar” as part of his childhood. Although it won’t be the same without M.J., the neighborhood still plans to keep up the “Lawn Bar” tradition.