My apologies to Emil Richter – 50 years after the fact…

14 07 2010

Starting at the South Shore tracks and 2nd Ave (or 3rd Ave. depending on the map you look at) on our side of the street was the Jimenez’ house, then the guy who owned Thunder (the 150 lb. Great Dane), the Ortiz family, our little green aluminum sided abode, (click on the aerial view – then the bird’s eye view to see the ‘hood), the Richter’s, then the Fedorchak’s.  After that, it didn’t matter much because Judy Fedorchak was my best friend and with the exception of the house of the old crazy lady we thought was a witch…we just moved between my yard and hers.  That was unfortunate for Emil Richter.

How did he know that just between the houses on our side of the street there would be over 2 dozen kids?  Granted, most of the Ortiz bunch was older and not playing in the street by that time but with my brother and the youngest 3 boys, there was always a street baseball game going on or some other schnenigans.  All I knew about the heavily German-accented Mr. Richter was it seemed he hated kids and our very “wichious” dog.

Our yards were relatively small patches of green on the far westside of Gary and ours was the smallest house on the block.  But when you’re small, even if the kingdom is small, it swells in your mind’s eye.  My parents worked hard to own a home and keep it up, just like the other blue collar workers that surrounded us in the Steel City.  All Mr. Richter wanted was nice grass and he had to do battle with brats and baseballs and bikes day in and day out, summer after summer.

I got an email from my cousin who runs the service department at a large car dealership near where the Mrs. lives now some 25 miles away from where she and Billy first started out.  “Does the name Emil Richter ring a bell?,” he asked. He and his wife had been in to service their car and recognized my cousin’s last name and made the connection to their old neighborhood.  Oh yeah…I was teleported back 50 years with just the mention of his name.

And I haven’t been able to get him off my mind as I stand, hose in hand – three times a day – nursing a fragile new lawn to life.  It is beginning to show signs of life – sprouting up here and there like whiskers on a 16 year old’s chin.  After the hydromulch was globbed on, we were handed a few sheets of paper instructing us how to baby this thing along.  The responsibility is now 100% ours.

I’ve been feeling very frustrated lately with my left hand all braced up and waiting for surgery a week from Friday.  I never realized how much I use the tendons in my thumb till I wince in pain with the slightest movement of my hand this last six weeks.  So, I feel like I’m biding my time…feeling depressed because I don’t feel like doing anything.  But then maybe all this has a rhyme and reason.  The Zen of Watering has become my daily friend.  Nurturing.  Coaxing something to life.  I need to be available and give it the proper attention.

Reminds me of the times when as a new mom, in a foreign country with two kids 18 months apart, feeling like I wasn’t making much of a difference.  Even today, glancing at Facebook status updates, I can ask myself why I’m not driven enough to be like her…or her…or her…or…

So here I am this summer, 50 years after cutting across Mr. Richter’s lawn one too many times, I just want to apologize to him.  It takes a slow, steady hand to grow a nice lawn.  It’s all you had and you made it really special.  It’s taken us 10 years of neglect and of being too busy to care less – to finally get to the point in our lives when it’s become “important”.  I’d like to stop and go back to that place in time but with these years under my belt and get to know Emil Richter.  What did that house mean to him?  Had he come from Germany after the war?  Was it a piece of heaven on earth to have a home in a “peaceful” neighborhood?

I need to quit.  It’s time to water again and time to watch Donny Diva while Shop Girl goes to the dentist.  If I get nothing else accomplished today, I will call it a good day.  Caring for living things ain’t all that bad even if it’s not worthy of a good status update.





twinklin’

10 06 2010

Last Saturday, I took Donny Diva and Shop Girl down to surprise the Mrs.  I learned a long time ago that it is best not to talk about plans ahead of time so as not to disappoint if things don’t work out.  Besides, if she would have known they were in the car with me she would have gone to Ace Hardware and bought all the baby-proofing gadgets she could find.

While I did my usual duties around the house and running out to get groceries, etc., they just visited.  I don’t know who was more entertained by the whole thing – the Mrs. or Donny Diva.  The giggles and laughs were about equal when it was all said and done.  It reminded me of some of the similarities that Billy and Tractor Baby shared two years ago (you can read about that here).  Before we wrapped up our visit, Shop Girl sat down at the piano with Donny Diva on her lap.  It took him just a minute or two to get the hang of the physics lesson of action-reaction.  Suddenly he was “twinklin’ ” on the piano – that’s what Billy used to call it when Shop Girl would play.

So I guess that alot of what happens in life is that we end up where we started from.  Sometimes our hands don’t work like we want them to.  We need more naps.  Our view of the world as a whole can be limited to what is happening in our house and our most immediate surroundings.  And more often than not, social gatherings can be intimidating.  When we went to a graduation open house the other day, the best Donny Diva could do was to bury his head in a cousin’s shoulder to help him cope with all the people that wanted to kiss on his face.  Eventually he warmed up and all was fine.  It just took a few minutes.

The Mrs. feels like that too – but there was no shoulder to share.   She was at an open house on the same day and told me later that it all made her feel very lonely.  She was very aware of feeling like the “odd man out” as she puts it.  Surrounded by couples, all old friends, feeling like she didn’t belong.  She missed Billy something fierce.

Hearing about how she felt made me defensive.  It gets my ire up when we routinely plow over the elderly but would never treat a toddler that way.  We are impatient with their inability to move like they used to, their lack of desire to do what they used to or just their general state of “winding down”.  A conversation with her can jump from the 1920’s to 2010 mid-sentence and takes all kinds of special abilities to maintain sanity.  I’ll be the first to admit that  I don’t have the stamina it takes to be Donny Diva’s full time caregiver and I get equally tired when I have to deal with the Mrs. for days on end.  But none of that is like  a friend of mine who is being taxed on a moment by moment basis as she is an only child dealing with her mom’s Alzheimer’s.

So all I ask is that when you are out and about running around in your world with all your fingers working just like they are supposed to and mentally juggling a million things at once – if you find yourself in line behind someone with more gray hair than is on your head – be kind.  Be patient.  Be personal.  You may be the only person that speaks to them all day and you’ll turn around twice in life and you will be that old person.  There is no escaping that reality.  There is a new generation stepping on your heels ready to sit down to take their turn twinklin’ on the piano.