Once again, I am beginning another writing assignment – taking a collection of stories I wrote in 1985 called Life (in obvious places) and adding a narrator’s perspective from 30 years later (in italics). My plan is to write the first draft in serial form over the next several months. I will continue to post on other subjects, such as “Mental Health Mondays,” so stayed tuned…
Finding Life (in obvious places) begins here and continues here…
Today, I walked down a street I used to wander as a child. Old houses an arm’s length apart, old paint peeling away at the edges. My grandparents used to live around here. Sunday afternoons we’d play croquet in the front yard and watch the neighbor, Mr. Shepler, sweating like a pig and yelling at his lawn mower and three children. Mrs. Shepler would come out with a pitcher of iced tea and listen to him curse the weather, how hot the summers were getting.
About five blocks away from the Sheplers’ I noticed a “For-Sale-By-Owner” sign. I decided to explore. It was a two-story house, with attic and basement. The white painting was graying and the gutters were falling down. The grass was high; tall dandelions covered the front yard, some creeping through the cracks in the sidewalk.
I thought of the family dinners where Grandma would put the dandelions we’d picked for her in a Mason jar and use it as a centerpiece, as proud as a peacock. Mother never understood the dandelions. She’d say they were just weeds the didn’t belong in the house, much less on the dinner table.
After Grandpa died, Mr. Shepler started moving Grandma’s yard — early on Sunday mornings so he could get to his own in the afternoon. Grandma was grateful, though she also believed he was committing a sin working on the Lord’s Day. The other widow ladies would drive by slowly on their way to church, staring at the sweaty 75-year old with his unbuttoned short-sleeve shirt and Bermuda shorts. Grandma just closed her shades.
“What?” I moved over to his chair. He sat still, but motioned with his arms.
“Ya interested in buying? The owners are out. Moved to Chicago. I’m watchin’ over the place.”
“Well, I was just… Kinda walkin’ around.”
“Cliff Barton’s the name,” he said, lifting his arm.
“Robert Thompson,” we shook hands.
Ya lookin’ to move, Robert?”
“Well, I don’t know. Wouldn’t mind…”
“It’s quite a find. Solid foundation. Fenced in back yard. Quiet neighborhood. Course it’s old. Price of heating these days. But it’s a nice house. Got a lot of good use.”
“I’m sure it’s a fine house. It’s just… well, I wasn’t actually planning on buying my own…”
“Where ya from?”
“Around here. Stonehedge Apartments.”
“Got a family?”
“No. I’m a… well, I’m single.”
“Yeah? I don’t suppose a young man like yerself’d have much use for a house.”
“It’s not that. Actually, I have been thinkin’ about getting out of the apartment. I’m tired of paying in and not getting anything out of it.”
“You got a good job? That is, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“No… I mean I don’t mind. I, um, I work at Arvin’s.”
“And yer lookin’ for a place of your own?”
“Well, yeah, kind of…”–
“Here, let me show you the place. I’ll go grab the keys.”
I reach in my front pocket and pull out that same set of keys, gently worn from thirty years of use, held together with a John Deere key ring. I look out at the neighborhood — the same neighborhood Mr. Barton watched thirty years ago. It looks much the same, but so much has changed. Cliff Barton died in 1986, right after Allison moved in. Thomas was born. Then Mary came along. For a while, the place was so full of life. Now it’s just me, sitting in this old lawn chair, looking for life in obvious places.