Such a little girl, barely 4 years old. Squatting on the gray painted boards of her front porch, she intently seems to be writing in a black ring-bound day journal. Looking over her shoulder you would see that she’s not writing at all, not real writing anyways. The neat wavy lines break into different lengths as she covers each page meticulously from top to bottom. Having filled many pages, she stops and leafs back through the work she has done, gently going back and forth as if looking closely at something she has found on one page in reference to another entry on another. When she closes the book and holds it to her chest, you know she holds something precious and magical. “Cynthia is so lucky!” she whispers to herself. Cynthia is her best friend who lives down the street and her father works for a paper factory in South Hadley. He brings home boxes of these day journals and they sit in Cynthia’s spare room. “…and she doesn’t even write in any,” she sighs.
With her journal still clasped in a hug, the little girl steps down the gray painted stairs and walks along the sidewalk in front of her house. She stops to brush the big round blooms of the hydrangea bushes that line the front of her yard. She loves the tiny heart shaped petals that make up the blooms…too bad they don’t smell.
Stopping at the driveway she looks down the street to where Cynthia lives. It’s only four houses down on the opposite side of the street. She knows each house by the people who live there. Directly across the street lives the Popilarziks. They used to run the little store that now stands boarded up and vacant on the corner. They are quiet people but they make their own root beer. The little girl loves it when they offer her some. They bottle it right in their own cellar with this machine that pushes the metal cap down on the bottles.
Then there’s her grandparents, and the Cargoes, old lady Cordek, the Yell’s and then Cynthia’s house. Closest to her house on her side of the street were the Chrabasz’s and the Olanders. It’s a narrow street, lined with two-family duplexes, it seemed like an entire world all unto itself to such a young girl. Her Babcie and Jadje were across the street, they were her mother’s mother and father. They were very old and her Babcie always looked mad and couldn’t speak English. The little girl didn’t care for her very much. But her grandfather could speak broken English and he told her stories like how he remembered the first time he saw an airplane in the sky. She remembered his lined face as he looked up at the sky when he told her. It was kind of sad, how he looked.
Each family on the street shared their house with another family except for the little girl’s. Even though they too lived in a duplex house, they didn’t share it. The little girl’s parents owned the entire house. Her mom always told the story about how when they first moved to Easthampton, they did share the house with another family. And when her children went out to play in the yard, the mother in the other family would yell at them and tell them they couldn’t play under the clothes line. “I told Stanley (the little girl’s father) no one’s going to tell my kids where they can play.” And when they got the chance they bought the other people out and from then on, they never rented the other side of the house.
They also were the last house on the street which meant they didn’t have neighbors on both sides like everybody else. Somehow, their yard looked bigger and she liked that.
Sitting on the curb as the day ends, all the sounds of the day seem to hush. Some days there’s the treat of an ice cream cone rushed home with a wax paper cover from Bill’s Ice Cream Parlor on Parsons Street. Some days there’s the rush of hide-and-seek with her brothers and their friends. But some days, it’s just sitting there and watching the nightly parade of Panis… the old Polish ladies as they took their walk around the neighborhood. Small, round women with hair pulled back in buns, wearing full aprons over their printed cotton dresses. Slowly considering each house’s front gardens, the flowers blooming, the attention or inattention to that particular plot of earth. Always talking in Polish, always conspiratorial.
It’s nighttime now and the upstairs bedroom of the little girl radiates with the heat of the early summer sun, pink as it sinks over the rooftops. A soft breeze floats in the window carrying the scent of the linden tree blossoms outside her window mixed with a hint of lilac blooms. She looks out the window, and in that space, alone, she just sits.