Tuesday, May 08, 2012
A few days later I found out the real story. The sock and the Bible still don’t fit with everything else. I bet they were just tossed in that recliner for no reason at all.
But this is what really happened. Or one man's view of it anyway.
I was out walking, midday on a hot Sunday afternoon, not a stupid soul out except me determined to grind out five miles in spite of the Florida heat. To entice myself to go a little farther, I told me, “Maybe, just maybe, there will be some neighbor outside mowing their grass near the puke-green house, and maybe, just maybe, I can ask them what happened there. … Nah, are you crazy, girl? Nobody is going to be just OUT, in that place exactly, on a hot afternoon. … But, hell, let’s go anyhow!”
I rounded the big corner where the house sits, taking in the entire, poor, empty yard to see if there was any remnant of the former owners, any box or bin or toy that they’d forgotten in the weeds and I’d missed before. And there, next door, was an old fellow pushing a wheelbarrow across his lawn down toward the street. I couldn’t believe it. I said to my reticent self, “Okay, so don’t get excited now. If he gets within hailing distance by the time you pass by, hail him for Chrissakes, and just ASK him!”
Flanking the end of his driveway are two white stone lions sitting on their haunches—one decked out in a straw hat, gauzy scarf, and pearls, the other sporting a striped tie and a rakishly arranged fedora. These offered me an obvious opening gambit, so I called out, “Your lions have a sense of humor!”
“They sure do! Those are for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I dress them up for all the holidays. Valentines, St. Pats.”
“I know. There was this house I used to walk past where they dressed up their stone eagles like a Christmas angel with a halo and a jester with a red and green hat with bells on. I’d do it, too, if I had some stone animals.”
“Yep, just somethin’ to do,” he grinned.
“Listen,” I blurted, “I love that house next door. I see it’s all boarded up now, but it sure looks like somebody loved it once. What happened there?”
“Well, I’ll tell ya … Name’s Spencer. Come on over and sit down. I’ll tell you the story.”
Now I’m salivating inside with wanting to know. I hope it doesn’t show.
Mopping his brow from the yardwork, he headed toward two lawn chairs in the shade by his front entryway, and we sat.
“Well, that house. We’ve been here near 27 years, and this old couple was living there even before we moved in.”
He paused to take a swig from his water bottle.
“Gerry passed. And I think Loretta must’ve passed, too. They were from Chicago, and we’re from Chicago, too, so we’d talk, but I didn’t know ‘em real well. Otto down the street, he’s from Chicago, too, but him and Gerry got in an argument years ago, and ‘cause I stayed friends with Otto, Gerry stopped talking to me.”
“That happens sometimes with your neighbors who turn into your friends. Everything can change on an argument, just like it can with family.”
“Yep. Otto is into orchids, and my daughter got into orchids and got us into them, too, so we all talk about the orchids. Anyhow, Loretta must’ve passed, because their grandson moved in and things went down real fast then.”
This is the same story I’ve heard so many times around here that I almost know what he’s going to say before he says it. Our own house followed this same sorry road. The lovable old couple, Curly and Ellen, whom all the neighbors adore, pass one after the other, the house goes to the son, and everything goes to hell in a goddamn big, hot handbasket. The son is dealing drugs, different cars come and go at all hours, the yard goes to hell, a dog gets trapped in the scummy pool and can’t at first get out, the son and various women fight loudly and often, a little girl wanders around in the yard at night because daddy’s with a lady friend, all one big sordid Business.
“Well, he totaled his car and didn’t have insurance, so the police come after him. And he lost his job. I don’t know what come first. Maybe he lost his job and couldn’t afford insurance and then totaled the car. Maybe he lost his job because he’d totaled the car and couldn’t get to the job. I don’t know.”
“It almost doesn’t matter. It’s all one big cycle.”
“Yep. So then he wrecked another car. And this girlfriend moved in with him, and they fought all the time. We could hear ‘em. And one day they just weren’t there anymore. I think I heard he moved to Tampa. The house could be bank owned, I bet it is, but at least somebody still cuts the grass. And you know, they only boarded it up about a month ago. Till then, the shed door was still open.”
So there it was.
We talked a while longer about the staghorn fern big as a bison’s head that had grown into a wrought iron table on his front porch, his orchids, his granddaughter’s drama classes. As I was leaving, I spotted his name on his mailbox: “S.L. Spencer.”
“What did you say your name was? Spencer?”
“What? You’re Spencer L. Spencer then?”
“No, no,” he laughed. “It’s just easier for people to remember Spencer, instead of Sennett Lafayette Spencer, after my grandpas. Don’t get lost on your way back now.”
I HAD gotten lost, though. Who makes up sappy stories in their head about old ladies quietly passing away while gazing out picture windows, comforted only by a Bible and a sock, anyway?
The truer, better story had just happened to me.