The Neighborhood

 

The days are hot, lazy and slow. There isn’t any television or air-conditioning to pull you into the house. As the sun goes down, the heat from the sidewalks radiate up to meet the cooler evening air. I sit on the front steps of our house. The rough wood, with last year’s grey paint already peeling off, brown tears show the path we walk every day. I just finished my supper and all the kids in the neighborhood are still eating. My head in my hands, I watch and wait for twilight to arrive so we can play hide-and-go-seek.

Across the street, one house down I see my Babcie, my mother’s mother, coming out of her house. She’s a little stout woman, the same height as me, with grey hair she always wears up in a bun on the back of her head. Holding onto the rail on the stairs she side-steps down until she is on the sidewalk in her yard. She pushes back any stray hairs on the side of her head, smoothes the ever-present full-breasted apron and starts to walk to the front gate. Just before she gets to the gate, she stops to look at her flower garden. Snapping off some dead blooms which she quickly throws to the ground, she neatly and quickly tidies up the multiple flowers blooming there.

Satisfied that all has been put right, she opens the wooden gate in the fence and starts to walk down the street, hands in her apron pockets. Going past ol’ lady Cargo’s yard, Babcie keeps her head up and eyes straight ahead. After years and years of bad blood, she’d never give the Cargos the satisfaction of looking at their garden. Her step is quick and purposeful until she approaches ol’ lady Cordek who is already waiting for her in front of her own flower garden.

Each house in the neighborhood had a small patch of yard in the front of the house that the women used to plant flowers. As Babcie and ol’ lady Cordek looked over her garden they compared the varieties. If this conversation was between good friends, promises for cuttings and rootings of certain flowers would also transpire.

Once that garden was thoroughly appreciated, the two polish panis would begin their nightly stroll around the neighborhood, stopping to look, admire, or quietly whisper criticisms about the gardens they saw.

Slowly, they slipped out of sight around the corner. The clatter of the last of the dinner dishes in the house meant my mother would soon be sitting beside me. She went through the same movements as Babcie, pushing back the stray hairs and then smoothing her dress as she sat down. We didn’t have a flower garden in the front of our house. My mother’s passion was her bushes. All along the perimeter of our corner lot, my mother had planted and nursed cuttings cajoled from neighbors and friends. She had lilacs, mock-orange, double mock-orange, bridal’s wreath, pink almond, and other assorted shrubbery. All spring long, I would go to school with an armful of flowers picked from our yard.

Of course we had some flowers, day-lilies and the like but not the elaborate spread of zinnias, dahlias and petunias the panies had. As we sat together on the porch, Babcie and pani Cordek rounded the corner and met Pani Popilarzsek who lived directly across the street from us. She owned the little neighborhood store that stood on the end of our street. Of course, it was never open while I was alive but I heard many stories from others on the street about it and once was treated to their homemade root beer.

At this point, my mother got up and crossed the street saying, “Dovide Dzien ya, “ which is polish for good evening. The little group of women would talk in polish and eventually a glance in my direction with a smile would be my cue to run off for a last game of hide’n’seek before the day’s end.

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