Cotter Street in Hayward is an inviting tree-lined configuration of mostly older well- kept family homes, probably built in the forties. Curiously it is only one block long. The east end abuts busy Foothill Blvd, while the west end stops abruptly at a creek. When I’ve inquired in the past why it is so wide, like a boulevard, I’ve been told that no one knows for sure. One rumor is that a former mayor lived there when the suburb was being laid out. Most neighbors know one another by first name, or if not by name at least by habits of daily life. The geography dictates that. Yet that street safely harbored the anonymity of one long term resident.
Del was a lesbian and an elementary school teacher in the decades when to be outed meant the loss of your job, and perhaps even your freedom. She played it close to the vest. She had grown up on a cattle ranch in Old Castro Valley. When they were living she was close to her parents and siblings; she just never came out to them. She never partnered though I think she yearned to. The photo above shows her in Christmas attire, 2005, Emory mesmerized receiving her affection.
For a number of years after settling on Cotter Street my friends Stacy and Andrea observed a petite sprightly older woman walking past their front yard, a daily occurrence. She lived down the block, they speculated. They wanted to be friendly neighbors but she seemed a very private person, intent on getting somewhere important. Never looking left or right. It turned out she walked for her health, usually miles a day.
Eventually the ice was broken, and slowly Del was assimilated into their intimate circle of friends and family, which is how I came to know her. Del cherished her privacy, her garden, and her pets. Stacy and Andrea in turn cherished her. Trust grew until it seemed they had always been family. I have been fortunate to spend the last dozen or more Christmas day celebrations with her, as well as birthdays, Easter, and even Halloweens. She kept us all in stitches.
A few years ago a drug given Del caused her to have kidney failure. When three times a week dialysis was initiated Del took it boldly in stride. “I worked all my life teaching school,” she would relate, ”and I just figured this was my new job.” She became the darling of the dialysis center, cheering staff and patients alike. I never heard her complain of the challenges life had thrown her. No party was complete without her laughter and joking.
This week her very unique life ended. She was 94. Stacy and Andrea were on a trip to New York. Except for her dog she died alone, as she had lived her life. A friend found her on the floor beside her bed as a result of a phone call from a niece in San Diego who was worried about her. We don’t know how long she had been dead or the exact cause. Cotter Street neighbors will gather tomorrow in Andrea and Stacy’s back yard to remember her. Thanks to them she is no longer the mystery woman who walked and walked. There will be an empty spot at the table and in all of our hearts. I guess what matters is that her playful and courageous spirit lives on in all of us whose life she touched.