Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons from Neighbors

Thane's school is holding a read-a-thon fundraiser. New books for the library being the objective. So after dinner Thane and I hit the street to ring doorbells and dig up sponsors. We have no particular goal in mind. No set amount of cash we want to come home with. It is a lovely evening and secretly I just want to get out of the house. So envelope in hand, off we go. We live on a tree lined crescent. Very suburban. Lawnmowers drone. Cardinals fly around the trimmed hedges, tulips stand on guard. The first houses we hit are familiar. Where we go to borrow lawnmowers and eggs. We recognize faces. We don't know their last names and they don't know ours. But we all end up on the same street at the end of the day. And that makes us more than acquaintances, but less than friends. We meet over the fence, on the street, on the front lawn. Neighbors. Simple as that.

People are just arriving home from work. Pulling into their driveways, emptying trunks full of groceries. Walking up the street. Fresh off the bus. Laptop commuter bags slung haphazardly across their chest's. It's the first day we've seen sun in weeks. It feels like summer. The vibe on the street is light. And we know in half an hour all we're going to smell is BBQ. We're greeted with smiles, not to mention great donations. Thanks to Thane's paper route everyone knows him. Thanks to acting lessons he's self-confident and conversational. I'm taken aback by his maturity. He's having issues at school. One of which is a lack of interest in reading. And yet he promotes the read-a-thon with genuine enthusiasm.

We move down the street. Thane approaches a group of hip looking, twenty-something guys. New to the street. They are strumming guitars and chatting on the front step of a beautiful home. He tries to sell them on the idea of sponsoring him.  They reach in their pockets and, between the five of them, come up with five dollars and fifteen cents. Seriously. They explain to Thane they are a traveling road band. Short on gigs and short on cash. With big grins they advise him. "Read. Stay in school. Or you'll be broke and living with your mom, like us." Great advice, coming from a respected source, given Thane has taken guitar lessons for three years and is awe of anyone in a band.

Often we have the pleasure of sending our neighbor's off to work in the morning. The kids and I stand at the school bus stop and wave to folks as they start their morning commute. One neighbor, we have waved to many times, gave Thane a very generous donation. He explained to Thane that, as an author, he always encourages reading. An author on our street? Who knew? We asked him question after question. Finally he had to take his groceries in the house before his Popsicle's melted. What a great experience for Thane. As we go from house to house we learn all about our neighbor's favorite novels. We hear where they purchase books. Whether they frequent the neighborhood library. It seems everyone we meet is a 'reader'. Everyone encourages Thane to read. They tell him how many books they've read in the past week. They describe how rewarding it is to complete a series of novels.

Finally we head for home. The widowed woman across the street is just pulling in her driveway. Thane runs over, his envelope bulging with money. By the time I walk up Thane has already gone through his sales spiel. She is reaching for her purse. She's in her late fifties. I think she's an elementary school teacher. As she hands him the cash she asks him what he's planning on reading next. A Harry Potter novel, by J.K.Rowling. She's read the series. She becomes animated. She insists Thane has to read Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Her hands fly as she paints pictures with words. It occurs to me she used to be pretty. She takes Thane through the series. Classics. As soon as he's old enough. A favorite of her son's. All of a sudden she grows quiet. Her demeanor changes. She deflates. Looks older. Rubs her eyes, her cheeks. Her late son. He passed in 2002 at age twenty-eight. An undetected heart condition. A jog in the heat of a Montreal summer. A knock on the door at three in the morning and her life shattered. Now she reads his Lord of the Rings novels. Knowing her son read the same words, saw the same pictures in his mind. Her eyes, so full of life a moment before are dull and red. She looks at Thane with a mixture of yearning and tenderness. I can tell, in my mother's heart, that she longs to touch him. I think she may regret revealing so much of her personal story. I want to hug her but for some reason I'm scared of her reaction. Or maybe I'm scared of mine. I thank her for sharing with us. My tone tells her she gave us a gift.

We're done. Thane is quiet. Processing all the advice and information he's learned in one short hour. As we walk up the front steps to our door I remember we are moving. Soon these familiar houses will blur in my memory. And the faces of my neighbors will fade. That makes me sad. I feel the pain of regret. Not stabbing pain. I have too may other priorities for that. Maybe a twinge of conscience.  I could have gotten to know them better. As I slowly close the door I take a last look at our street before the light fades completely.  Wonder at the complexity of the lives behind the curtained windows. Thane learned several life lessons on our short walk. And so did I. Reading is so much more than a hobby. It's a passion. It's a common denominator. And it's a life preserver.  More than acquaintances, less than friends. Neighbors. Simple as that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let it Rain

Well, it's been a tumultuous couple of months. Last night I dreamt Chris and I were driving an out of control eighteen-wheeler down the highway. Hmmmm. I don't think we have to pull old Freud out of the ground to interpret that one. 

So, to bring everyone up to speed we're moving. The newly minted urban Morrison family is headed back to the country. Rural enough that going for a walk involves walking past a corn field. Is everyone happy with the decision? Unanimous, 'yes' from all parties. Is everyone prepared for the consequences of moving back to the land of one grocery store, one restaurant, one pizza place (that's closed in the winter), no clothing stores, and one tiny hardware store? That remains to be seen. But I'm pretty sure there will be some pouting in the future. And I won't be the only one.

Our moods have swung high and low as we've negotiated the labyrinth that is the world of real estate. We have actually missed the assistance the military offers when a family moves. And not just the financial assistance. The kids are resilient and are looking forward to the move. But constantly walking through the front door to be told they have to turn around and walk out again because we have another showing is wearing thin. They've eaten in too many restaurants, they are out of routine, they've spent hours and hours in the van. Behaviours are out of wack. Happy one minute, angry the next. And when you live in a community full of people who have immigrated from all over the world teachers and principals legitimately don't have a lot of sympathy for kids moving thirty-five minutes down the road.

And to add to the turmoil, the owners of the house we wanted to purchase decided they were fed up with showing their house. Fed up with leaving three times a day for showings, leaving every Sunday to accommodate an open house. So rather than taking their house off the market they decided to sell it to us. Now, think about that for a minute. That's the opposite of how it usually works. In over twenty years our realtor could count on one hand the number of times she'd seen it happen. We didn't make an offer on the house. They came to us with the amount they wanted. Back and forth. Voila. Done like dinner. To make a long story short, minus the pressure to sell our house, we feel good. The sellers feel good. Everyone is happy. We no longer have to worry about them selling the house out from under us. They can put stuff on their counters again and get back to living normally. When we sell our house we move into theirs at a mutually agreed upon date.

And so we wait to sell. We open our doors to anyone who wants to come in and take a look around. We're thinking of lowering our price. We're thinking of keeping it as is. We put in new closet doors, we painted, we cleaned, we purged and we packed. And now we wait. We try not to get overwhelmed or frustrated. We clean, and we clean, and we clean. This family is really tired of the process. We wait for the new sod to root in the backyard. We pray for rain when everyone else prays for sun. And in the end, the same rain that is driving everyone else crazy, gave us a much needed laugh.

In spite of the rain, and showings, and chaos Chris is trying to follow his training schedule for the Ottawa Race Weekend. He is planning to run the full marathon. He's had a few glitches. Last week the body wash he had stored in his backpack exploded all over his gear. He's missed many runs to help me get the house ready for showings. But, in general it's a beautiful time of year to run downtown. Tulips everywhere, every shade of green. Life in full bloom. So this morning Chris went for a fourteen kilometre run in the rain. He was prepared. Shorts, and his favorite Running Room jacket. He wasn't the only one ignoring the rain in favour of a good run. He acknowledged many fellow runners as they passed. All was normal until the half way point. He made his turn and headed back to a warm shower and his waiting work. 

All of a sudden other runners were returning his nod, or wave with raised eyebrows. Some looked away. Some ignored him. This went on for a kilometre or so. Finally, Chris fed up with their rebuffs looked down at himself. What the heck was their problem? Oh, it wasn't their problem. It was his. On his way out the door Chris threw his running gear in his backpack. Changed at the locker room at work, and headed into the rain. Remember the aforementioned body wash explosion? Apparently he didn't clean out his backpack well enough. This became obvious when he looked down to see his rain soaked shorts covered in lather. Bubbly, white, soapy lather. And so he stood in the middle of the path and laughed. Laughed at himself. Laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Raised his head and thanked God for the rain.