Saturday, March 7, 2009

The House by the Side of the Road

Well! After that recent bitch-fest about the “down” side of living where we do, I think I need to offer something that isn’t quite so negative. Especially since I know that some of the first people who’ll be reading this might be a little miffed to read such criticism.

Because it’s true: If you really don’t like where you are, then move.

But it’s not that simple; it’s not like we totally hate this place. Not at all. There are some really nice things. And many are rather intangible. So to help set the record straight, I want to write a little something about this afternoon.

By the way, we’ve had our first genuine warm trend these past three days. For two nights in a row, we were able to have our windows open all night. The crocuses and daffodils are blooming brightly in the front flower beds, and even though it will get cold again, we can safely say that “winter’s back is broken.”

Since I’ve become a freelancer, I’ve been exploring what it’s like to have total control over my daily schedule. One thing I’ve been doing recently, on nice days, is taking time in the early afternoon to go outside and clear out flower beds. You know what I mean—all that brushy dried plant matter still hanging around in the beds. Last year’s ageratums, peonies, daylilies, irises, etc.

So that the daffodils and tulips and such can see the light of day. And so that we can see them see the light of day!

Well, it’s a long story, but we have one bed that is kind of painful. It’s a terrace that’s above a retaining wall. The plants are mostly native grasses and wildflowers. Late February or early March is the time to creep around in there with trimmers and give it all a crew cut. Because it’s such a big job, we saved it for the weekend when we could both work on it. Footing is an issue. Balance is a must.

So there we were. Sue was attacking the Pillar Rose from Hell, which we are considering eradicating entirely, although a flock of sparrows had turned it into a favorite hangout, and I was snipping furiously at the dried-up river oats, coneflowers, and so on. It is very rewarding work, because it doesn’t take too much time to make the bed look incredibly tidy, with winter’s dry stalks ready to be trundled off to the yard waste place.

I am always careful to make sure the beds facing the street and sidewalk are attractive. I want passersby to think, “What a pretty little clump of pansies there.” I want them to think pleasant thoughts as they pass by our house, even if they’re having a cruddy day.

As we were working, we had visitors. First, our friend Lin drove by to pick up a book he’d loaned us, and we chatted with him. Then our neighbor Melva came over—she’d made some yummy cookies for us (homemade, family recipes, you know: the good stuff)—she said it was to thank us for sending them home from our New Year’s Eve party with sauerbraten and red cabbage and stuff. And then my mom and dad stopped by, having just spent the day at Th’ Lake (trust me, more on that topic later). So we stood around and chatted again.

So this was the first day we were outside in the yard together, doing stuff, and we had all these nice people stop by. And even when strangers walk by on the sidewalk, we almost always call hello at them, and they almost always reply in kind.

We live on a street corner. We live in my grandma’s house (we bought it after she passed away). Since the seventies or eighties, the neighborhood has deteriorated. When Grandma was old and getting blind, a guy used to come to her door and ask for money. At first, she actually gave him some. The next time he rang her bell, she handed him an apple, saying, “Here—if you are hungry, this will help keep your stomach from growling.”

Grandma had a favorite poem that she had memorized. Soon after we’d moved in, we were at an antiques store and found an old print of it that had been framed; it now hangs just inside our front door. I think about the poem often when I think about living here. It’s fitting.

This poem was immensely popular in its day, but now I guess it’s considered trite and saccharine by today’s poetic cognoscenti. And naive. But it’s got a solid and very, well, Christian message that transcends sophistication of taste. And reading it, I know I have a long way to go.

From “The House by the Side of the Road,” by Sam Walter Foss (1897):

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by;
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

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