i grew up on a street with no name. this bothered my poetic sense as a child. i had friends living pleasantly on mulberry lane and ivy hill road, but i grew up on east 171st street in a dark brown duplex. even that number seemed too large. perhaps had it been 3rd avenue or 2nd street it may have felt slightly more acceptable in my silly-girl dreams. a tad more poetic at least. perhaps.
i love names, not numbers. this was clear by middle school math. numbers and i had little in common. since those years in my brown duplex i have lived on streets with more picturesque names such as lakeview lane and sunset drive. currently, we reside on buttercup trace. buttercup was almost a deal breaker for my husband though. rick is a big man with a big voice. hearing him audibly lay claim to 815 buttercup trace has brought a touch of amusement to just a few individuals, not least of all, his wife.
|my parents in front of the house - |
yes! we had a paper route.
but back to the duplex on our number-named street. my grandparents lived downstairs and my family of six lived in close quarters upstairs. eight of us sharing one roof, one driveway, one back door. i found this arrangement of too many kids and too few bathrooms failing a bit in my often imagined perfect-family-fairytale. most of my friends visited their grandmothers for sunday pot roast and potatoes and then promptly returned to their single family dwellings. but this wasn’t our case. i grew up with what felt at times a second
|on the back steps of east 171st street|
set of parents breathing beneath my floor boards. as a young teen one set seemed plenty. there were moments of frustration. i remember my grandfather waiting up for me. i can still see him standing under the bug-zapping bulb of our front porch watching me cross the street from kathy tramte’s house. it was okay when I was 7 and afraid of the menacing shrubs shadowing our front path. but at 14, when my first boyfriend walked me home from his ballgame, i can assure you i felt entirely different about grandpa’s observant perch on the front porch.
growing up, it was grandpa who walked out of the house and into the rowdy street’s kick-the-can game or hide-and-go-seek fun. he came to check on us. always. i could count on it. all of the neighborhood kids could. he knew their names and he knew their parents and there was something in this knowing. when front porch sleepover parties formed it was grandpa’s flashlight which swept over our ghost stories and our girl-giggles and our bags of doritos. it was his strong voice through the dark asking if we were okay and reminding us to be careful. as a child i heard only the overprotective and ever-watching worry in his words . i didn’t understand it and i didn’t always appreciate it. i wished often to be less protected. less watched. less known.
that was long ago. the house on a nameless street bears the most vivid memories of my childhood but it seems a different life as i now raise my own brood on buttercup. one warm evening recently i sat on my back deck and felt the taste of summer’s coming. i sat in filtered twilight gazing out at the acre of woods behind my brick home on its cul-de-sac-ed street. and the summer memories of childhood’s season seeped out of my mother veins. i was startled at my nostalgia for that brown duplex and the barefooted gang of reckless kids running rampant on 171st. i found myself missing the grandparents living only a floor below … longing for a grandfather who knew every kid on the block. i was sad for how close they were and yet how far i had kept them in my most childish years. how could i so carelessly take for granted a grandfather who loved me enough to come out for a thousand street crossings and a hundred neighborhood games? he was there watching. he was there listening. he was there loving.
|my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary|
my grandfather died the year i went off to college. but to this day, almost 25 years later, it is easy for me to see his tall frame bent over a pot of hardy marigolds on our small square of patio. he tended these plants with careful passion. summer nights this big boned man stood in the yard watering our tiny patch of city grass. i wondered why as a child. i just assumed he was once again planting himself near our teen-girl whisperings. watching. listening. spying. but now i know. i, too, stand in my yard. i stand in my sprawling sprinkler-privileged yard and water thirsty spots on our georgia lawn. the steady streams of water in summer night-dusk ease the day’s tension and try-ings out of my mother-heavy shoulders. i breathe. i sigh with the day’s quiet closing. i replenish my own brittle soul in the pulsing flow. and i watch and i listen and i spy. sometimes children happen across my evening quenching. and sometimes it is the white starflowers in their smoky glow. and sometimes it is the birds settling into their evening perch. but i feel close to my grandfather at this time. i only wish for the chance to tell him.
my street may have been lacking in poetry, but i should have listened more to the music of my grandparents. my, church organist, grandmother would practice each evening a floor below and my grandfather a lover of hymns would sing in his great big baritone. what a picture they created for that little-big girl. a beautiful picture i couldn’t name and i most certainly took for granted. but today in my mid-life when i am most in need of music’s comfort it is my grandfather’s voice i hear…singing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus there’s just something about that name. Master, Savior, Jesus…like the fragrance after a rain. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, let the heavens and earth proclaim…kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about that name.”
|my high school graduation|
and i know. i know that growing up on a street with no name and in a house with, what seemed, too many adults was somehow good. how often God gives us things we resent and rebuke and even rebel against…but how often these are the very things which protect us and shape us and the very things to which we return. effortlessly. eagerly. quietly. these might be the things which sweep over us in our independence and the things which check on us in our self-proclaimed freedom…but they are the very things which are able to comfort and quiet us in our later felt restlessness. and whether they happen on perfectly named streets or not, they are ours. my gratitude comes a little late. gone are those summer-porch evenings in ohio. but even in its tardiness, i feel the quench of something remembered. the glimpse of something beautiful. the whisper of something well named.