Friday, May 29, 2009

Small Voice from the Past

Remember the other week when we had the citywide Big Trash Pickup? I think this is related to that.

Here’s what happened. I was cutting the grass recently, and as I was getting ready to mow the terrace above our retaining wall (yeah, I know, scary proposition), I noticed a notebook lying in the grass just above the wall. Like someone down on the sidewalk had flung it up there to get rid of it.

I turned off the mower and crept down the slope to the top of the wall and retrieved the notebook. I figured one of our darling neighborhood urchins had sought a solution to the challenges of academia by ditching his notebook.

But once the notebook was in my hands, I realized something was “off” about it. I mean, I know that current styles are aping the worst of 1970s fashions (or whatever you want to call the “look” of that decade)—but this seemed like the real thing.

The notebook had illustrations of generic baseball players on it, in generic baseball-playin’ poses. It was damp from the rains. But the plastic, the little clip that said “Mead” in those seventies-style letters . . . And here’s the kicker: there were some stickers on one panel of the notebook commemorating the U.S. bicentennial, 1976. It really was an artifact of the seventies.

There was nothing in the entire notebook but the looseleaf pockets, which were all empty, except for one sheet of notebook paper. The following is transcribed exactly from that page.

My Family

In our family we have six people. We do not have any girls but my mom. My oldest brother Steve is 20. He is manger at the Sirlion Stockade.

I have a brother Brad he is 16 and works at the hospital. My name is David I am 13 I work up at Shell and Ward I clean up. I have a brother name Bill 9 he likes to swim.

In our house we have 5 bedrooms 3 bathrooms 2 kitchens 2 living rooms and a dining room. We have a big garden with tomatoes corn beans, turnips beets, peas and cabage.

Our family likes to go down to the lake. We like to fish and swim. We like to go for boat rides.

Now . . . I don’t want to go getting into other people’s business or lives, but then this notebook and David’s youthful description of his family did wind up on our property. And how did that happen, anyway?

I can only guess that the notebook had been thrown out with all the rest of the refuse on the sidewalk a few weeks ago, and that someone—probably a neighborhood kid—picked it up, looked at it, then discarded it by flinging it over our retaining wall.

So I know this David and his family—not very well at all, but I do know them. They lived two houses away from where I live now, in the house my mom was born and raised in. The parents described in the writing were good friends and neighbors of my grandma. That family still owns the house, though things are quite different now.

For one thing, the mom and dad are gone. Jim, the dad, died in 2001. The oldest brother died tragically young. The house has stood vacant since before 2001, because Jim had been in a nursing home. The three brothers haven’t done much with the house (bums lived in it for a while). I guess they’re busy with their own families.

So I find this simple writing about the family intriguing. Three of the six are gone; the big house once so full of life is now a rehabilitator’s dream (or nightmare); and the big garden in back is only a memory.

I wonder if the brothers found this writing as they were cleaning all that junk out of the house. I wonder if they read it. I wonder if it gave them pause. Currently, they are putting work into the place; word is, they’re intending to rent it out.

I know I’m dreaming. Knock on wood, touch metal; I hope they find someone decent to live there. If we’re lucky, we’ll have new neighbors whose lives will harmonize with the warm and hardworking, dignified spirits of their predecessors who walked the same floors; neighbors who will coax that black soil back there into giving life to new crops of vegetables and sprays and garlands of flowers.

It could happen, right?

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