It was suburban America in the last days of the 60's. The houses on this block were all were erected in the 50's, sprawling across what used to be farm fields, rich soil that lay at the foothills of the mountains, small squares of cedar and brick, laying in the shadows of tall unaxed trees and the log train that serenaded a little girl to sleep.
The neighborhood back then was different then the dynamics of a neighborhood now. Families moved in and didn't move out. There weren't foreclosures popping up every few houses, and kids tended to live in the same home from the time they came home from the hospital until they went off to the lumber mills or college. It was a small mill town, most of the kids ended up there, drawn by the lure of a log mill wage at 18 that seemed like a fortune, until you saw the brutal tax on your bones and your spirit after 40 years of it. Only a few of us made our way out beyond those snow capped mountains.
I don't remember any of my friends parents getting a divorce. I rather doubt that was due to some magical formula of happy marriages, but society WAS different. Options for women were fewer and the choice of staying in a bad marriage versus the stigma of divorce with no real job skills was enough they they stayed, once loving people now just sharing a house, two ghosts from happier days, bound together by the ghost of chains.
Most houses had only one car. With the amount of activities we kids were in, music lessons, scouting, band, Dad finally bought Mom this old 64 VW Bug to run errands. Mom was grateful but not too cranked about the stick shift. I remember one trip to the store. Big Bro was in the back seat. I was actually sitting in that tiny little space behind the backseat for a suitcase or two, my favorite spot (car seats were for wimps).
Toot! It's still backing out. No luck. Toot! toot! The RV continued to back out into the lane, Mom continued to utter words in Norwegian we'd never heard as they tried to get the stick into "R". The tail lights were looming, albeit quite slowly. Reverse - FAIL. Toot! Toot! the horn growing more frantic as my left-handed Mom laid out "Stop" in morse code with the horn with her left hand while she flagellated the stick shift with her right.
toot! toot! toot toot toot toottoottoottoottoot ! CRUNCH.
The damage was pretty minor but oh, how we teased her about that, the rest of her life.
That store was across a two lane 50 mph roadway that lead to the mountains. We were NOT allowed across it on our bikes without a parent, even if there was four way traffic light at the intersection with the grocery and the gas station. There was no even THINKING of breaking that rule. We knew the consequences of being reckless, and it was not a slap on the wrist or a taxpayer funded 'stimulus'. Outside of that, there were all kinds of places to roam, and in summer time we were pretty much outdoors from breakfast to supper, no helmets, no sunscreen if we could help it, no hand sanitizer, no shin guards.
But, like the examples of our parents, and the lessons of TV, which did not yet involve drugs and spandex, we were careful with our weapons, even if they were plastic. We knew when to shoot and when not to, when it's appropriate to take a life to defend and when it is not. Besides, should those rules be broken, we knew who the Sheriff in town was, and it was Mom, even if she gave up her actual Deputy Sheriff badge and an 18 year career in Law Enforcement, when we were placed in their home.
On Saturdays, the cars came out to be washed, and sometimes waxed. I could earn spending money for candy by washing the station wagon for Dad, and gladly did so, learning early the correlation between labor and putting food on the table. Our Dads would mow, and our Moms would get groceries and bake cookies for the week. A small town neighborhood was not necessarily a quiet place. There would be the sound of a piece of shop or yard equipment firing up, the mounting snarl of a small engine louder and louder, nearer and nearer, then suddenly cut off, ceasing with that certainty that is the vagrancy of machinery. There were dogs in the yards, barking at the kids who darted among trees, in bright colored tee shirts, like small schools of fish. There was the conversation over fences as our Mom's hung out the laundry on a line, at least until they got their first Avocado Maytag drier.
I go back now, Dad still owning that house of my childhood and find so much has changed. I see houses down the street where there's no money to repair a roof, moss taking over, plants growing in the gutter, but there's a new fishing boat and Hummer in the driveway of the very modest home. On others, there are bars on the front doors of the homes we'd run up to to ring the doorbell on Halloween, without any adult in trail.
I look at the house now as I slowly back from the long driveway, and all of those memories seem to condense in it, as if the house alone were the source of them, shining from it from that big picture window, glimpsed just for a second as my rental car pulls away, like that 10 point whitetail you see the split second after he sees you, when he's already gone, even as you yearn for him to return.
I lived that way too, for a while, hated it, sold it, giving most of my things to AmVets. Now my home, when I'm not working, is a quiet neighborhood, very old, modest houses, in which some people have lived 50 years, others are moving in to start their families or to downsize and retire. It's the way I like to live now, where what one possesses serves a purpose in alife, nothing is new, but you've mortgaged neither your wallet or your spirit to gain it.
I still want a little place out in the country, with a stand of trees that holds some deer on a good spot of land. But given the economy, the instability and cuts in many jobs, including mine, that's going to have to wait. That wilderness will continue to breathe until I find my place within it.
Most everyone has a porch, and on any given summer evening, there's usually someone sitting on it, even if its the teenager down the street with the streak in her hair dyed bright blue and her gawky young suitor. On those summer nights, if you listen carefully through an opening in the double paned windows that are 100 years old, you might hear the music of the neighborhood, the sounds of things that go back to our roots, our families roots, even as society changes.
I don't have a two lane highway to navigate across, just a place known as "Crazy Polish Corner" where the right of way seems to be written in a language I don't understand, but somehow survive. I'll get across it, going into the lot of the small local grocers, smiling up for Mom in my giant black 4 x 4 that's bigger than anything in the lot with a "No one's going to back into ME". If she can hear me, I know she is laughing.
It's not where I'll retire but it's where I am content. It's not what I'd planned, it's everything I dreamed. It's a piece of home, the way I remember.