I really do love my suburban neighborhood, which often feels more like the outskirts of a city. The houses on my street are called “twins” because each has an indelible architectural connection to the other–-the wall. (Siamese style). House deJana is on a corner, which means that I hear the comings and goings of many more neighbors than I’d like. It also means that we have more lawn and sidewalk to contend with. In the summer, there’s a bit more lawn to mow, a few more weeds to pull than the other houses around us. In winter? You guessed it. Shoveling. Lots and lots of shoveling.
Usually, caring for our “estate” isn’t that big a problem, except when, a couple of years ago, my husband and I got a note in our door from an anonymous neighbor. Our lawn hadn’t been cut for about two weeks, since we were both working full-time, adjusting to taking care of the needs of a very mobile toddler, and dealing with a devilish virus. The message, written on a blank index card in perfect, Catholic penmanship, said:
You may have noticed that you moved into a neighborhood that is very house proud.
It would be appreciated if you took better care of your yard.
Of course, we were flabbergasted. By whom would it be appreciated? Our yard really didn’t look that bad. But what asshole would write this anonymous letter? We took comfort in the fact that despite the neat penmanship, she (we assumed) did not put a hyphen between “house” and “proud.” Ha! Dummy! Still, we were dying to find out about our secret un-admirer. I googled our neighbors to see if anyone had obsessive compulsive disorder, if anyone was a landscaper, or why someone would have targeted us, two nice people with a kid. A friend of ours decided it must be political since we had displayed lawn signs for Democrats in a fairly conservative neighborhood. So he made us a special sign:
Notice the hyphen?
Two years later, the mystery remains unsolved. Yet the house-proud phenomenon showed us something about the underbelly of our working-class, family-oriented neighborhood. (There is a lot of Coca-cola and pizza.) The anxieties and superficial to-do lists of yuppies have no place here. If you don’t put out your trash the night before, someone notices. If you don’t cut your lawn, there may be raised eyebrows, snarky comments among the older folk, even anonymous letters. And come winter, when a snowstorm hits? You better get your ass out to shovel.
Snow begins to fall, and the pressure mounts. How soon before one needs to don gloves and get out there to scrape it up?
If it happens overnight, how early can one begin scraping it up or blowing it out?
5:30 a.m. is fine, right?
It doesn’t help that most people in this community are Catholic, so the guilt takes hold fast. If it’s been snowing for hours, and is going to snow for hours more, you still best get your ass out to shovel. Get a head start. Tighten those boot straps.
Oh? You prefer to sit inside by the fire and drink tea?
What’s wrong with you? Someone needs to put a note in your door.