The Literal View Part 2: Foot Traffic

The name of my blog was always meant to be a figurative view: my observations on small town America, the life of a middle class family, the simple things that happen around me. Now though, five weeks into self isolation with several more weeks on the horizon, my world has narrowed drastically making the literal “View from the Porch” so much more than it used to be…

The road that runs past my porch has always had a modest amount of foot traffic. Our street runs from one end of town to the other anchoring the Middle and High School three blocks to the left and, the Elementary school five blocks to the right. Consequently, backpack toting children are a regular site. In addition, we have, I suspect, more dogs than people living in town and they, with their respective owners walk past our house quiet frequently. We walk too, my family and I. My husband walks religiously, several miles a day, the rest of us more sporadicly. The walking isn’t a new thing but I’ve noticed, during the weeks we’ve been sheltering in place, some changes in the foot traffic. Maybe it stems from my own perception but I feel like the walks my neighbors are taking mean a lot more than they once did.

Back when things were “normal,” people walked past with a purposeful stride, getting in some exercise before the next task of their day. This was when the kids still had to get to soccer practice or be picked up from school, when meetings needed to be attended and friends met for dinner or a movie. Now my neighbors tend to stroll. They meander. Walks have become their tasks, their destinations, their social engagements. They wave and chat to people on porches or across the street, checking on news or how others are coping. The basic human contact, even from a distance, is the real purpose of the walks. After a particular rainy period, the traffic out front gets even more manic, like an awakening. The street fills with those anxious to feel the sky and the sun.

Another change I’ve noticed is the amount of people in each walking group. Before it was generally a single or a pair of pedestrians whereas now whole families are out, walking or biking. Those who never walked before are forced into it due to the lack of other choices.  I’ve noticed many former classmates of my children’s, now shut out of their colleges and living back at home, suddenly finding themselves out getting exercise with mom and dad. They look a bit awkward, trying to  figure out how they got back to this place, but the parents, given the unexpected gift of their young adult kids back under their roof if only for a little while are seeing some silver lining in an otherwise difficult situation. The small children, by comparison, are thrilled to have the whole family out riding bikes or going on scavenger hunts. I hope that is one trend that continues after the grown-ups return to their busy lives.

Perhaps the most signicant change I’ve noticed between myself and my neighbors as they walk past my house is the sense of comaraderie we now share. When we wave or nod to each other, it’s with the understanding that we are now part of a team experiencing something unprecidented; living through a situation we never expected. Regardless of our lives before all this started, we are now in the same place. I look at the neighbors I’ve known for years, like the families with children my daughter’s age and I know that we both understand that this required isolation is robbing our college seniors their right to a graduation ceremony or internship or even a celebratory trip somewhere, but we also realize that our children’s health and safety is a more important gift than any of those things. I wave to the parents with children from the school where I work and we understand that we need to stay positive for the young ones. We need to make this an adventure for them, keep the scarier parts at bay while still impressing upon them the importance of what we are doing.

We share this bond now, those walkers and I. We smile and wave to each other with a look that says, “We’ve got this. This will pass and when we reach the other we’ll know we did the best we could and that we did it together.”

The Literal View From the Porch

The name of my blog was always meant to be a figurative view: my observations on small town America, the life of a middle class family, the simple things that happen around me. Now though, four weeks into self isolation with four more weeks on the horizon, my world has narrowed drastically making the literal “View from the Porch” so much more than it used to be.

I’ve always loved our neighborhood with it’s quaint old houses and tall trees but now our street has become, not just my view but also, my window to the world and I’ve come to appreciate it all the more. Today, I realized, gazing out, that there are many stories I could tell just about the things going on right outside my door.

What follows is the first of what I hope will be a series of tales cataloging the world outside my window during this strange and unusual time.

The Porch Guy

Across the street and to the left of my house sit two enormous homes. Each was built well over a hundred years ago and both are grand old buildings designed with peaks, decorative molding and deep porches. They were probably the first two homes on the block and I can imagine they were once owned by well-to-do families with many children. Behind them, at the bottom of their property line, is an odd little dead end street. I’ve been told that this road was where the carriage houses and stables for those two house once stood.

The house closest to us, a big blue farm house, it’s brown roof dotted with dormers, had been converted into four separate apartments when we first moved here 16 years ago. There were two apartments on the first floor, one in front and one around back, one on the second floor and one up on the third that was accessed by treacherous wooden stairs climbing up the side. Then, about 8 years back, the house was taken over by a lovely woman named Gail and her husband, whose name constantly escapes me (Craig?). I think it was her family home since her daughter was already living in the top apartment and there has been no “For Sale” sign to state that they were actually “new” owners. I’ve never asked but I suspect that an elderly relative passed away and she and her husband were the next in line.

Gail and I are “Yoo-Hoo” neighbors. That means that we don’t hang out in each other’s kitchen drinking coffee or call each other on the phone but we do catch up any time we happen to be outside at the same time (Yoo-hoo, neighboor! What have you been up to?) Via these sidewalk conversations, I learned that Gail’s first order of business after they moved in was to turn the house mostly back into a single family home. The one apartment she left in tact was the first floor rear, which is accessed around the left of the front porch. It was this apartment that became the home of “The Porch Guy.”

The Porch Guy was an elderly gentleman who looks just like you would imagine a fine old grandfather would look, complete with a bushy grey mustache and soft flannel shirts. When he first appeared, we noticed that he spent a great deal of time sitting in the little chair beside the front door, no matter the weather or time of day. My kids would come in and say “Porch Guy is outside again” or “Do you think it’s too cold for Porch Guy to be sitting out all this time?” Sometimes he would walk up the street and back, not in a hurry, just a easy stroll. He also had a nifty grey sedan that he often took on short errands and we would speculate about where he went and what he bought. That was about all we knew about him except that he always had a wave and a “Hi-ya!” for anyone who walked past.

Over time, we learned that “Porch Guy” was actually Gail’s father-in-law and that his name was Larry. Not “Mister” something, just Larry. That’s what he prefered. So we took to shouting “Hello” to him whenever we came and went and he in turn learned our names (although he still refers to Miss Dee as “Girl” occasionally-“Hi-ya, Girl! How was school?”). The best thing about Larry though is his disposition. I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone as upbeat and pleasant. He unfailingly has good words to say to anyone who passes and has become the unofficial ambassador of the neighborhood. He also has the most wonderful laugh, often chuckling at his own jokes. It seems to come from deep down and bursts out with an unapologetic blast! Sometimes in the evenings, if the windows are open, we can hear Larry laughing and laughing with someone who has stopped to pass the time.

Three Springs ago we noticed that Larry had been absent from the front porch for some time. D-man ran into Gail’s husband who told him that his dad was in the hospital. He had fallen down, a result of ongoing health issues and would probably not be home for several weeks, if at all. We asked him to please send our regards and to wish him well. After that, we watched and waited, The neighborhood seemed so quiet. No one calling out greetings or making corny jokes. Finally, a month or so later, as I was getting out of my car, I heard a gravelly voice call out “Hi-Ya! How ya been?” There he was, right back at his post next to the front door. I crossed the street and stood there talking, catching up, happy to see he was still just the same joyful, positive guy. The first thing I said to my family when I went in was “Hey, Larry’s back!”

The last few years we’ve made a habit of taking a tin of cookies over to Larry at Christmas time and, of course, we never pass without exchanging greetings. He walks with a cane now and his hair is a lot more grey. I’ve also noticed that he doesn’t drive anymore but I don’t think he minds. There is always someone to talk to especially now with the shelter in place. Our street has become a parade of families out walking with children or dogs. Each and every one of them gets a “Hi-ya!” from Larry.

Our old friend being there with his kind thoughts and positive outlook, happy just to have his comfortable seat and a place in the sunshine, helps to remind me that this anxious time will pass and life will undoubtedly, go on.