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May 08 2008

What We Take for Granted

Working in the yard is a great way to meet the neighbors. People stop to find out what you’re planting or weeding or just to say how happy they are that you’ve done something prettier than grass everywhere. Usually it’s a quick “Hi. How’s it going? The yard looks great. How about this weather. Have a nice day.” conversation. But every once in a while, about one time in five, I get a reminder that I’m not living in the same world I grew up in.

The most memorable conversation last summer was with the four kids from a few doors down who were riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk on our block. The violets were in bloom, and they had never seen anything like them–this common weed that I encourage to grow wherever it wants. They wanted to pick some and to chase the butterflies. I explained what would happen to the flowers if they walked through them. I did pick them some violets, and I invited them to watch the butterflies from the walkway.

While they were hanging out, I took the opportunity to point out that if they stopped turning their bikes in the middle of the boulevard, the daylillies planted there would bloom later and attract more butterflies. For their part, the kids wanted to know whether I owned (in hushed tones) “a car?” They were very excited when I said I did. They wanted to see it, but that was when the youngest showed up again. At some point, probably when the conversation turned from butterflies to cars, he realized they were all talking to a stranger. He’d run home to get Mom’s authority to tell them they were doing something wrong, which ended the conversation. The kids went back to riding their bikes, but they did stay out of the daylillies. I think they’d moved by the time the boulevard bloomed.

This Saturday, I was picking up the trash that accumulates on a corner lot when I had a pretty typical yard/weather conversation. Only this time I could tell that the fellow had something else on his mind. Once all the pleasantries were out of the way, he said, “Excuse me, but what are the initials for?” I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed behind me, and I looked. “Oh. That’s the company that made the windows. They’re new. Those come off.” Then he went happily on his way.

I picked up more trash and reminded myself that not everyone grows up somewhere where good windows are important and more people could really use them but are never going to get them. I felt particularly lucky, not to be able to afford the windows, but to live in a place where I can’t take them for granted.