Geneva's Path - The Neighborhood

(by Geneva Agnes Gates Foote)


During cousin Bill's memorial in 2005, someone gave me the wonderful  book above written by a very talented, special lady about his neighborhood in Berkeley. In the painting above, Bill's white house was next to the loquat tree where the road makes the turn. Reading the book makes me wish I had known the author. In 1972 Geneva lost her eyesight from complications of diabetes. This brought her closer to the people who lived in her North Berkeley neighborhood. In her stories and poems, Geneva shares forty years of memories of those people and events that shaped her life closest to home where she lived with her husband Abbot and their little dog Betsy Jingle.

She wrote: "This little house, Towhee Cottage (right), has seen many things over the years. There were the host of people who lived in the garage room to help me with testing, cooking and reading my mail. They were black, white and yellow and from a variety of sexual persuasions. There were both gentle and violent ones. It is like I have taken the whole world into my life. I imagine that if the house could talk it would say that the biggest blessing was the coming of abbot. We've been married nine years now....Abbot came into my life in 1988. We met at a class on the Gnostic Gospels at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists. The class was moved to my house and Abbot always stayed afterward to put things back into some sort of order for me. I had lived all by myself for sixty-eight years before Abbot and I married. These years together have been good. I have somebody I can count on to take care of me and I think I have been equally good for him.

Abbot (at left with Geneva and Betsy Jingles) has fit into the neighborhood, as well. He gives me reports on the people on the street. He has a sense of timing that allows him to talk to people and give them some understanding. In front of our house are two benches for people to sit, watch the birds and rest. In the willow tree near the street is the goldfinch feeder. Nearby are containers of flowers. A spot made welcoming by Abbot. I don't know how it all happened. Perhaps life said, 'Geneva, there is something you are missing and I am going to see that you know it..."

Geneva wrote that Betsy the dog was sixteen years old and she celebrated it every day. "Betsy turned out to be a lively little dog in her youth. She could jump from the floor onto the table if she wanted to. She chewed up my tapes and spewed them over the floor. She also scratched on the front door to get out. Once I realized that Betsy needed always to go with me, things improved...."

Of cousin Bill (right) Geneva wrote, "Abbot was on his way to the kitchen when a new silver-colored car drove by. 'Why, I believe that's Bill,' he said and rushed outside. It was Bill in a new Honda Civic. His sister in Baltimore, the one he stayed with for two months when she broke her hip. She gave him the money. Lord, Bill is proud of that car! Bill is the owner of a beat-up Chevy and a large bird feeder. He tends the street's only loquat tree. He is companioned by Chester, a black and white outdoor cat, tended only by Bill. Evenings, when Abbot and I take our walk, we stand under the loquat tree. We listen to Bill play ragtime. How he has a piano and bed in that small place, I don't know. We stand there tapping our feet to his ragtime. He plays for us, for the loquat tree, Chester, himself, and the stars..."

Geneva felt that after writing about the neighborhood there was something she needed to write about herself. "There is a treed and ivied spot to the right of the paved path which goes from Neilson over to Gilman and Curtis This path has been mine from the beginning....After I went blind, I was learning to walk using a feeling cane. BART was nearly finished and the path was still under construction. Before they got the cement in, the dirt was piled up on one side or another and I had to zig and zag. I remember trying to keep my balance and use my feeling cane to find my way along that path. Somehow, I always made it through....I really felt like that path was mine....I've met all sorts of people along that path through the years..."

"I can no longer walk independently, so Abbot guides the wheelchair as I walk holding the handles as we travel through that path every day. I sometimes wonder about my little path. I think its only designated by a number and I doubt that anyone has ever really thought it was worth naming. I know its a big ego thing, but maybe someone would think to name it after me. Then again, who ever heard of a path called, Geneva's Path? Well, maybe. It doesn't make much difference what it is called, it will always be my path."