Thursday, September 8, 2016

Life on a Porch

Driving home from work puts me through a couple neighborhoods that I'd not venture through after dark.  Though in the daytime my black 10 year old 4 x 4 is not going to likely inspire a carjacking and they really wouldn't want to try it, as this redhead can still hold her own at the LEO range against Mr. Bad Guy Target (I also have a clown target which usually generates a raised eyebrow among the Range Officers).
But I drive through that small section of town fairly quickly, keeping my eyes and ears open to any unusual activity. You can tell the subsidized housing by the general rate of ruin and neglect.  Why care for something that's given to you for little or nothing? Most of the billboards seem to revolve around lawyers, for Social Security for disability, for payment from your auto accident, no payment unless there's a settlement!  I wonder how many of them use the law as a fine edged blade to cut the chaff from justice or simply preferred the reward of an avocation exempted in advance for holding avarice above truth.  I'm afraid I'd rather not know the answer to that.

But there are pockets in the city where the houses, some beautiful old  places, have been restored. It's bits of the city reclaimed  from urban blight by paint and dollars and dreams and people, willing to stake out a life with a two income mortgage within a few blocks of those corners where someone would kill you for a $100 pair of shoes.

No thanks.
If I'm driving home after dark in the winter, I take the freeway straight west, before cutting south to where our home is at.  It takes an extra 30 minutes but I'm miles clear of any neighborhoods where there is gang activity. There's a different look to the landscape, most of the homes being newer, with some fresh subdivisions on that which used to be open ground - those  monopoly game house squares of plastic and cheap lumber and wasted spaced.  What wood is there is usually laminate, the walls not thick enough to withstand a really good storm or the thump of a neighbor's bass played too loud. They look OK now, but I can't imagine what it will take to sustain them 100 years from now, if they are even standing.  But they are big  and "New!" with three car garages full of a lot of things that aren't paid for yet, the neighbors house so close you can't swing a tax assessor without whacking it.

As I get back out to the smaller towns that ring this city like small orbiting suns, that were here when the subdivisions were simply corn fields, I see the post WWII homes, some tidy, some sprawling ranches, but made out of real wood and brick, with craftsmanship and pride.
My Dad has such a house, generations old with a two sided fireplace and a huge picture window that looks out on his whole world.  He also had a pump action shotgun in the closet just inside the door, ready to defend it if the world turned on its ear.  Open does not mean naive, and the bonding of family in such places, also increases that will to protect. It took him a Great War and the loss of a wife and a child to fully realize the taste and savor of peace and he was not going to give it up easily.

He's never had to use that firearm for that purpose. The only time people around there even locked their cars doors in his little town was in zucchini season when neighbors would dump off unwanted bags of the prolific veggies on porches and milk boxes, wherever there was space (do not leave your car unlocked during zucchini season). But he had a love for his country and family as sincere as his own unfeigned and honest soul. Both of those meant to him what God means to a believer and if they were threatened, he would not hesitate to pick up his truth and ready his sights.
Dad was proud when I bought my first home all on my own.  But I don't miss it at all, that big, crowded subdivision house, with rooms with no personality, and a front facade as closed off as most people are to the world, and to one another. I bought it thinking, as many young professionals do, that this is how I'm supposed to live, I go to college, get a job, work a few years, have a family, buy a house bigger than I want and retire to a gold watch to stay home and watch game shows until the final answer is death.  Now I look at people living like that and can't help but think of horses, penned and standing, but asleep.

But back then, I thought it was what I wanted because everyone told me that is what I wanted.  So I stood in that brand new house the first week I owned it and felt like a stranger in a place where people's reaction to the customary was different than what I'd assumed.  For frankly, my house was a perfect carbon copy of every other house (no one dare incurring the wrath of the housing association by painting their front door Winchester Repeating Arms Red). People gushed about my 20 foot entryway (make sure you don't look at it in the light so you can't see how crappy the drywall work is), the fancy roof (done by the labor of those I'm certain, were not legal laborers) and the plastic, cheap fixtures that had all the personality of a Stepford wife.
So when I moved in, more from curiosity than welcoming, the neighbors wandered over to meet the new neighbor and, too brightly to be real, exclaimed over the beauty of the mundane, many likely going home to their flat empty spaces, shutting the blinds, fearful to the discovery of what lies behind the cheap construction that makes up a life.

Perhaps we all have different perceptions of what is beautiful, people lobbying the word about so loosely, beautiful carpeting, beautiful dog, what a beautiful election speech, so when truly face to face with the beauty that is form and truth, they cannot recognize it.
The Original Range

It was beautiful, but I never really fit, in that house, in that neighborhood. I didn't have a husband, an SUV and kids. I just wandered around 2600 square feet with the ghosts from my day.  I came and went at odd hours, sometimes gone for days at a time.  I had no desire to go to Zumba or Yoda or whatever they called those exercise classes the neighborhood women went to in their designer yoga pants.  I didn't want to flirt with their husbands and when the guy two doors down banged on my door one night when I was sleeping to go on duty at midnight, talking of the "Neighborhood Watch", I simply handed him one of my targets with the heart and brain blown out and closed the door.

When I dropped the "Body Fluid Clean Up Kit" in front of the Mary Kay lady at the shared mailbox, I pretty much sealed my fate at not being asked to the block party. The answering machine that lay silent after my arrival, conveyed more than its messages might have.

I just wasn't meant for modern suburbia, longing for a simple country kitchen in an old house..
I sold it at a huge loss, all equity, when the market tanked, not willing the stay the 15 years it would take for the market to pick up again. With a moving truck for the furniture I was keeping, I loaded up my little VW Jetta  and headed out with Barkley in the back seat, a small vehicle of absent kings, brave queens, black knights and unhomed angels. As I left the gates of the subdivision, I felt much as the house cat does as it's let out at night.

I'm  happy in a small, old village, within the shadow of a big city but a world in and of itself.  There is no movie theater, there is no Starbucks.  The only grocery has a pickle barrel, an old fashioned butcher and a collection of fresh Polish pastries every day. The hardware store is off the square in a little shop. No matter what you need, you can simply state it, and the owner somehow, out of all the rows and racks of things, knows exactly where it is. One summer day there was a little kiddie pool in the window that came home for Barkley, another bit of summer frolic then added to the window display that could have been as easily from the 50's as the 21st century.
There's a little Italian place with no tables, only a counter where you can walk in and walk out with a slice of homemade pizza as big as a hat, made by a grandmother.  Then you can eat it, or one of their Italian ices, as you wander off the square by the little library, into one of the older neighborhoods, exploring the beginning of this place,

The ancient mapmakers would put on unexplored regions "there be dragons" but on the quiet edge of town spaces there were only the watchful eyes of a gargoyle who holds his breath.. There's an old, old church, a small graveyard behind, an angel holding a book in her hand, a Bible perhaps or just a book with a single line that says "there be ghosts". I move away in hushed silence, treading softly the hard, patient earth.

A few blocks North there is a Pub, where I keep a chair beneath the wooden woman that once graced the bow of a clipper ship, as she watches out the window for the train that stops outside that might be bringing her errant sailor.

No one has 20 acres, and the neighbors know who you are, even if their house isn't feet away. Most keep to themselves for the most part, but they keep your Six. They know when you're gone so they'll come over and shovel your driveway so it looks like you're home, a chocolate cake making its way back by way of thanks. Most of the houses have big porches. At night, when everyone is home from work, we'll barbecue in the drive, then sit out upon them, as a mint julep is tipped to a neighbor passing, looking through the branched intervals overhead, as the finishing of light  fades from the zenith. This is a working class neighborhood and just as we know the satisfaction of taking care of our own, we relish those times we can just sit back.
We don't socialize but we're social, hard working people that simply want to pull their own weight, keep their family safe, and live our lives based on what we know is to be right, not what we are told is best for us.

It's a small place that most city dwellers would pass by, turning up their gourmet noses at the burger and beer place that has a cow on its roof or the breakfast place that is jam packed on the weekends with more retired Marines and active Masons than you've ever meet. These are neighborhoods where men came home from four years away from family and decent food, fighting on that hard, patient ground that could wait, assured it would eventually claim them, fighting so they could return with that gravitational pull to the place they were born, to raise a family and eventually rest only in that earth that was Home.
A few of them still live here, the rest gone to glory, the occassional shotgun or baseball bat still within reach,We're close enough to the city to be aware of home invasions, but we're not so afraid we would trade it for the man made, homeowners association-tended glass box that the young people here here dream of, and the older ones eschew. There is more than one American flag that hangs from the many porches, proud symbols of a nation born into or adopted as ones own. There are an equal number of yard gnomes and Virgin Mary statues, both often bearing the same swatches of fresh color.

The houses themselves are grey, white, rust, white, brown or brick, no trendy Victorian doll house colors, no urban renewal shades of  yuppie reclamation.  The houses and porches are the shades of time and shadow and quiet murmured voices gathered between columns, as if time and breath had made them all one quiet color, a hushed vestibule where all is forgiven. It won't be pictured in
What I have there is not fancy but it is beautiful to me, it is truth.  Those are not words I use trivially, by so doing, so easily, depriving them of not just their force, but their dignity.  What I have here, what is contained in these walls, is not just antiques and old firearms, books and old tools, but that which lives and breathes, that I too will protect.

Cities sprawl out to the suburbs, which sprawl out to small towns and villages, bringing with it crime and change.  Nothing remains the same, and wishing for the past often means just wishing for the best parts of it, which isn't always the reality of it.  So, like my father, I still have a means of defense within easy reach.  But I'd not trade this life for a fancy McMansion with shuttered windows and a houseful of things of which the possession  impresses only the shallow.  I'd rather live simply and self sufficient, in a a little village that has, not the fire and heat of the city, but that which houses those embers that keep my world warm. - Brigid


  1. Beautiful!

    And my sentiments, exactly!

    I'll be so happy when we're OUT of the L.A. Metro area....

  2. Your neighborhood reminds me of Mayberry RFD and a lot like my little village used to be.

    PS: do you use an Auto Rim?


  3. Home. It's a very, very special place, isn't it?

  4. Home is where the heart is... And a heart can fill a small home. :-)


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