Friday, January 11, 2008

Window Stories*

If there's one thing I hate it's when the holiday decorations don't go away. My mother raised me the right way, which means the tree, the tinsel and hoopla come down by New Year's Day. Any later than that and not only are you lazy, but you're sick in the head. Considering that the holidays now begin sometime shortly after Labor Day, I'm stymied as to how anyone could stand another minute of Christmas by the 26th. As Duncan and I walked down Leawood tonight, I couldn't help but tsk tsk tsk at all the people who haven't had the decency to take it all down and put it back in a box. If Wal-Mart can find the guts to do it, so can they!

If I were a voyeur (and I'm not saying I'm not), walking down Leawood could be an interesting experience. The first thing I noticed was all the lights still up, then the trees in the windows, some still lit, but many were dark and brittle, fire hazards dressed in drag. Once I got past the holiday hangers-on I started seeing the people and brief glimpses of their lives. Like television there's a bit of everything, a story for everyone, fact and fiction, and you need only scan the various windows for the one that's right for you.

Greg Holland was just getting home from work. He's a plumber who works for the new communities up at Lowry and Stapleton and gets to drive one of those shiny white vans with all sorts of gear fastened to the roof and sides. As Duncan and I passed, poor Greg was struggling to remove a ladder but it fell and the language he used was not fit for a house with a wreath–brown and folded up on itself–still hanging on the front door.

Nora Chambers, who lives on the corner of Newland and Leawood was standing over her sink in her kitchen, which faces the street. Her arms were moving rapidly up and down, as if rinsing potatoes or scrubbing a seared pan. She was talking to someone over her shoulder, probably her nineteen year-old son, Cliff, who's played Wii every waking second since Christmas. Nora did not look happy, and that one long curl in the middle of her forehead, the one she bleaches to hide the advancing gray, was wagging and bouncing like a deflated balloon.

On Newland Duncan got sidetracked by a lawn statue, nearly invisible behind the shrubs and rocks. It was a small bunny, it's ears up and at alert, eyes wide and peering straight ahead, right at Duncan, who froze and lowered his head as he studied the thing. I stepped back and watched him as his left paw came up slowly, as if pointing, before he took a cautious step and inched closer to the thing. When it didn't move he waited a moment, snorted softly then looked up at me to see whether or not I'd witnessed his momentary confusion. Another sniff and we were on our way toward the school.

Down on Jay, at the house with too many trucks, a trailer laden with well-used RVs, a burnt-out looking camper shell and a garage full of tools and engine parts, two teenagers were smoking in the darkness off the side of the driveway. One said, "I can't believe you got away with it," to which the other replied, "I know, right? They think grandma did it."

People love their lights and on both sides of the street we could see clearly into nearly every room. Sharon and Ralph Piper looked as though they were arguing. Ralph must've just come home because he was still wearing his scrubs. At the school one lonely teacher, a brown-haired, short woman with a white, puffy sweater, was busy writing on the board, stepping back every now and then to inspect her work. It was nearly 7:30 and as we passed her window I wondered if she had anyone to go home to. Across the street, on Ingalls, Glenda Tropmann was baking cookies for the 6th Grade Winter Carnival. He daughter Caitlyn, the 6th grader, was sitting on a stool nearby, talking on the telephone and twisting her long brown hair around her thumb. Downstairs her brother, Colby, was watching 1 Vs 100. Next door, the Hoffmans were doing the same while their black lab Libby sniffed the counter for dinner crumbs. A couple of houses down and across the street, Randy Norby was in the garage working on his truck, as he's done every night since his wife left.

There was no end to what we could see and learn on our quick walk down to the school and back. Even at our apartment building the lights were on next door, at Tom and Melinda's, where they were eating dinner in the living room from TV trays. Their dogs were on the floor, Kiki with her head resting on her neatly folded paws while Cyrus licked himself. Across the way, Ben and his Boxer, Layla, were running back and forth across his living room.

As we came into our Christmas-free apartment and I took the leash off Duncan, kissing his head and cheering him for a good walk as I do every time we come home, I smiled and asked him, "Do you think if I posted a made up a story about the houses we passed and the people who lived there, they'd believe me?" He cocked his head and waited for me to kick off my boots. "If you write with authority," I explained, "People will believe almost anything."

*Dedicated to Kelly, whose neighbors know no boundaries


muse said...

I had always heard the decorations come down after the 6th of January-Epiphany or 3 kings day. The folks in my neighborhood? They take things down the day after New Year's.

Traci said...

Leave it to you to get sick of the wonder, joy and love that can come from the holiday season. (And I'm supposed to be the cynical one!) I'm surprised you don't take the tree down the day after. Shame on you for letting the bitterness get the better of you. I hate taking the decorations down. My tree makes my home feeling full of love and comfort, and when it's gone, the room feel empty and barren. Even more so these past few years that I've been on my own. The tree reminds me that I'm not alone, that I share in a greater community that has better things on their mind than looking out for number one, even if it is only for a short time. I leave it up as long as possible to try and hold on to the good of the season, hoping it will stay with me a little more each year.