July 3, 2003
I’m not getting a column up every two weeks as I’d hoped, but it’s summer, my son is home, and I’ve been writing up a storm on books, so I hope you’ll forgive me. At least aiming for every other week means I’m getting here a lot more often than I did before!
When my boys were little, our block swarmed with boys. There was a pack of them: Ian, Miles, Loren, Brandon, three Marios, Daniel, assorted others whose names I can’t remember, who lived close by for for a time, then moved on. It’s a quiet street, two blocks from the elementary school, which makes it very appealing for young families. All summer, and through the winter, the boys filled the yards and street with their noise, their bikes, their forts and battles and games. They climbed our apple tree and demolished thousands upon thousands of freezer pops. The ice cream man never, ever missed this block on his evening tour.
He still doesn’t. All those boys have now grown up, and most of the families have moved on–I think I’m the only original neighbor left on the block–and new children have moved in. Now, instead of a pack of boys, there is a gaggle of girls. There are 6 of them, not counting cousins who join them regularly, all between the ages of 4 and 8. I’ve been watching them, talking to them a little here and there, amused by the differences between packs of girls and packs of boys.
I wrote last time about the plethora of flowers I have in my yard this year, and those flowers have provided a source of bonding. One afternoon, my son called me to the front door, where a little boy–one of the only ones on the block–stood on the porch and pointed to a rose bush by the street. “They picked your flowers,” he said somberly.
The rose bush, which had been blooming so beautifully, had proved too much temptation for the girls. They stood in the hot sunlight with roses in their hands, looking both defiant and sad, waiting for what I’d do. I said to the boy, “Thank you, honey,” and went out to have The Talk with the girls. I’ve had it before, with each new crop of children who comes into the neighborhood. I’d just forgotten what a temptation the flowers would be since we had so few last year. I told them they could have a flower any time they wanted one, but they had to ask me first. I promised I would always let them have one, but I needed to pick them so the bushes would be safe. I showed them how roses need to be cut, just above the five-flower branch. I told them the names of the other flowers, too: coreopsis, lavender, baby’s breath, four o’clocks. Enchanted, they went off happy.
So now my doorbell rings four times a day with requests for flowers. They absolutely love putting baby’s breath in their hair, and the smell of lavender. It’s working okay for me–they swarm my car when I bring groceries home, so they can get paid in flowers. One afternoon, they pulled weeds (tumbleweeds for those who know them–no fun) for a quarter each. They insisted they get bored and need things to do. They said they liked to clean house, and maybe the next time I was washing windows or vacuuming, they could come help. (I can assure you no boy ever said that to me.)
But some days it’s a bit much. Every time I leave the house, there are cries of “Barbara, can we have a flower?” Some days, that doorbell is ringing a lot. One afternoon, the bell rang for the fifth time and I was IRKED. I mean, really. Enough already.
I opened the door and said, “Yes, girls?” The littlest one, from across the street, raises her big doe eyes and says, “Do you like tortillas?”
Only slightly less than sex. Which I didn’t say aloud. I said, yes. They are one of my favorite things.
She came back in five minutes with a huge stack of freshly baked, homemade, still-warm tortillas. I ate one standing right on the porch, and felt as loved as if a mama had come down and hugged me.
Yesterday, the doorbell rang, and I opened it with a smile. “You want flowers, right?” It was Marina, the littlest one, who is my favorite. There’s such wonder about her, and such goodness. Then I noticed her mother behind her, and laughed. “You can have a flower, too.” She laughed in return and talked to me about a neighborhood matter, then said she was moving.
Marina held up her finger. “I smashed my finger in the door.”
I examined it minutely, as I was meant to do, and it was a nasty cut. I said, “Oh, baby, that had to really hurt!” I kissed it for her.
She said, suddenly and with great feeling, “Barbara, I’m going to MISS you!”
Not as much as I’ll miss you, sweetheart. I’ll remember you.
Till next time,