May 1, 2012
Yesterday morning I spent an hour and change on a conference call. As I sat, my eyes took in activity on the small dead-end street that tees off from the busy main street outside the window of my home office. The two story lines intertwining across the street made me think about life and death.
An elderly woman has lived in the house directly across the street ever since we moved in here 19 years ago. She has left the house so few times I do not know her name. I wouldn’t recognize her if I saw her on the street. But I’ve imagined her many times.
I imagine her watching us leave the front gate with our dog, walk down the quiet dead-end street past her kitchen windows to the park. Over 19 years I’ve imagined her observing us raise and say good bye to our first dog, watching him grow from puppy to gentleman dog to elder with a limp. She’s seen us take on a new puppy and begin the process all over again, passing beneath her windows on our way down to the park.
Her house sits above grade enough that I can’t see in her windows, although I almost always look that way as we pass. I picture her inside in her favorite chair, or at her kitchen table, a cup of tea nearby, watching the activity of the neighborhood. We are not the only ones to walk a dog or push a stroller or jog or bike beneath her windows. She is the unseen watcher of a busy crossroads, as am I.
Her adult children come regularly. The son mows her lawn—probably arranges for the company that sprays chemicals so it remains a perfect square of green. The daughter comes on Sunday after church. I imagine that they grew up in this house. For the last couple of years, the Meals on Wheels lady has come almost every day. I see all this, working at my desk upstairs at my window overlooking hers.
Monday morning, April 30th, about 10 o’clock, as I sat tethered to the telephone, I watched Two Men and a Truck arrive. Simultaneously, a city crew arrived with a truck full of saplings and a little tractor.
The moving van maneuvered into position in front of her driveway. The two men began carrying boxes out of her house. The city crew sat in their truck and waited.
It took just an hour for the men to parade her possessions out her front door and into the waiting rear of their truck. Her daughter and son helped. I watched. The truck filled and the house emptied.
As the process neared its close, the city crew moved into position about 20 feet from the sidewalk where the movers worked. The city crew quickly dug a hole, then seated a sappling in place. They returned to wait in their truck while the Two Men and a Truck finished their work.
The daughter got in her minivan and turned it around at the end of the dead-end, brought it to rest mid-street, and returned to the house.
The elderly lady emerged, dressed in a purple jacket and pale slacks. I expected her to come out on her daughter’s arm but she walked unassisted down her front steps, down the sidewalk, past the open rear of the truck filled with her things, and to the passenger side of the minivan.
The Two Men moved their Truck a few feet to give the city crew access to the spot they’d picked for a second sapling. About 10 feet the other side of the lady’s sidewalk they dug their second hole.
The minivan pulled away. The Two Men and a Truck pulled away. The city crew finished planting their second sapling and pulled away. My conference call concluded and I pulled away too.
The dignity with which my neighbor exited her home demanded a standing salute. She left well-dressed, unbowed, unglancing right or left. She showed no sign of acknowledgement of her uprooting, or of those saplings preparing to take root.
Someday, when I take the last walk out of my longtime home, will call on the memory of this particular morning to face my own transplanting?
The above essay brings to light the difference between writing about something that happened in the past and something that happened very recently–in other words, between writing memoir and journaling. This episode is so fresh I don’t know yet what it means to me. This makes it difficult to write a meaningful conclusion. I suspect that in years ahead, I will come back to edit this piece with an eye to creating a stronger closing. – Sarah White