Five Houses Down

Remember to close your curtains after dark. If I’m passing by an open window, I’m going to slow down and see what I can see. Though I’ve been rewarded enough through the years to continue indulging my guilty pleasure, it matters not what someone might be doing. It’s just that I’m curious about what’s going on whether driving by a lonely house on a dark country road or gazing at all the neighboring windows from a high-rise hotel room.

Is someone on the phone? What are they talking about? Are those people having a party? Why are all the lights on in that house on the hill with only one car parked in front? The house over there is completely dark at 8:00 every night. What do the occupants do each day that requires them to get up so early? Every residence triggers a long list of questions and provides hours of speculation.

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The immaculate house a few doors down. Lacking curb appeal, I’m left to wonder what the owners do all day.

The fifth house east of my childhood home has fascinated me for decades. My mother once remarked that the little white house standing back from the road was so well kept; yet she never saw anyone outside. Keep in mind that we couldn’t see the house from half a mile away unless whizzing by it in our rush to reach the highway, but one would think in 40 years that we’d see someone in the front yard at some point.

Except for meticulously trimmed boxwoods to camouflage the front steps, there are only four other small plants along the front, which do nothing to mask the raised foundation. There are no grand flowerbeds, no colorful borders, nothing to be mowed around or anything to please the eye. The owners are clearly not trying to attract attention or provide visual interest.

In a real estate listing, the smallish dwelling might be described as “cozy” or “quaint” or “meticulous,” but this well-maintained abode raises so many questions in my mind. In an area outside of television cable service, there’s not a satellite dish attached to the slightly pitched roof, and speaking of roofs, I’ve never known this house to need a new one. The white shingles are always in good shape. The lawn is never out of control, but in more than four decades, I’ve never seen anyone mowing it. There are no trees on the front of the lot, and those four plants along the front would take no more than ten minutes to prune, and that would include getting out the tools and putting them away.

There is no barn or garden shed, and the carport, which was added later, no longer has a car in the drive, nor is there anything else stored in it. My last trip to the neighborhood had me slowing down. There was a vehicle in the drive as I passed on the way to see my parents, but there were no cars on the place during the rest of my stay.

I believe someone lives there, and they have the means to keep the place up, but my casual research indicates these people do not enjoy gardening, being outside, watching TV, or getting involved with the neighbors. The backyard is unfenced, there are no pets running toward the road, the house faces north, and some of the windows are high, which indicates limited natural light.

It’s true that I haven’t been around much in decades, but when I was younger, I went by that house at least twice a day. There were never additional cars on holidays, no kids playing in the yard, and there were certainly no eye-popping light displays. These people didn’t even light a candle in the front window.

In my imagination, these two people—perhaps now only one—have been sitting in the dark for almost 50 years discussing anything but gardening, animals, food, exotic travel, and whatever is coming on television tonight.

When I was six, my sister took me trick-or-treating after a battle over my last-minute costume. I liked the idea of dressing up and going out, but I was never keen on asking people to give me candy, which has resulted in my becoming one of those adults who doesn’t like asking for help.

We’d just moved in a couple of months earlier, and perhaps we saw a porch light and mistook its meaning. Dad drove us, and Karen walked me to the door. That Halloween night was the one and only time I’ve ever gotten close to the house though I have passed it thousands of times. The lady of the house dropped pennies into my bag while her husband complimented my costume.

The lack of candy on hand indicated they weren’t expecting trick-or-treaters. I was surely the only kid they’d had that year or perhaps ever. I can recall the husband facing me, standing on his wife’s right, and I think she had blond hair. It could’ve been gray. I have always remembered them being “really old,” but I was six and anyone over 35 could have admitted to being 40 or 70 and I would have believed them. Considering how much time has passed, they couldn’t have been too old that night if either of them are still living in the house and keeping it up.

I was more focused on the coins the lady dropped into my bag. I was ready to reconsider my stance on begging if every knock on the door resulted in cold, hard cash. Because I was blinded by filthy lucre, I missed a wonderful opportunity to steal a glance inside a house that has haunted my imagination for decades. I can’t very well go to the door now and introduce myself as that six year-old kid who came trick-or-treating one time over 40 years ago. The sight of my gray hair would shock them into realizing how long they have been sitting in there night after night as the years became decades and faded into the past. I’ve lost my window of opportunity to know what they’ve been doing in there all this time.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

Have I Forgotten Something?

I’m one of those readers who’s yet to get a Kindle or a Nook. Like most of us who’ve avoided getting one, I say it’s because I like the tactile experience of holding a book and turning pages, but I have a few other reasons, which include collecting older editions, finding out-of-print books that are not available electronically, and the biggest reason of all: if an airline tells you to turn off your gadgets, I can keep reading and maintain the barrier with strangers on a plane during takeoff and landing.

The truth of the matter is that I’m mistrustful of “The Cloud” and take comfort that when it dissipates or electricity vanishes because of some catastrophe, I, like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode, will be left alone with my books as long as my glasses don’t break.

Some people I know have ceased to buy books in any form, and they rely on the library or borrowing. I love the library and use it for checking out books by authors whose work I don’t know or for deciding if I want to buy a book that’s been recommended to me. I’ve rarely borrowed books from friends, and please don’t ask to borrow from me because I no longer lend. Every book or video that’s left my possession has never come back to me in the same condition, and most have never returned at all. I would let you pet sit or keep my kids (if I had any) for weeks at a time, but not my books.

Someone asked me why I wanted to hold onto all of these books, and while I’ve actually donated about 100 to the local library in the past year to help with their continuing fund-raiser, I keep the ones I want because I like to refer to them for reference or even re-read them from time to time. To be honest, I’m saving up for my old age in case I’m ever homebound. I’ll be able to escape into countless worlds from whatever dreary existence befalls me.

A few of the books that make me happy.

A few of the books that make me happy.

“But how can you get any enjoyment from something you’ve read before?” asked my friend. I’ve recently come to realize the answer to that: I don’t remember. A few weeks ago, I was moving some books around and a jacket cover in a dull gold with black lettering popped out. I remembered reading the book within a week or two of its publication, and I opened it to find that I’d purchased a first edition in 2001. I remembered exactly what was going on in my life at the time, and I recalled the plot line even if I couldn’t remember the characters’ names.

I was thrown by some of the plot points mentioned on the inside of the jacket, but I remembered enough to know that I’d enjoyed it. Since the book I’d placed on hold at the library had not yet come back, I decided to take the book with me on my upcoming trip. I read about 30 pages the first night, and it all seemed familiar. By page 60, things were not exactly as I’d remembered, but by page 175 I would swear that I’d never read this book before in my entire life.

One character that I’d completely forgotten was taking over the story, and another who seemed vaguely familiar as an incidental character that I thought had died, ended up surviving to the end with some woman that I remembered having been dropped around chapter three the first time I read it. This time, I thought the book could’ve ended 200 pages earlier, but I rather enjoyed all the plot twists and turns in spite of the fact that there were at least three and probably four nice endings if only the author could’ve forced himself to stop typing.

I put the book away when I got home, and though part of me feared the early onset of dementia, or worse—Alzheimer’s, I’ve convinced myself that I read that book at a time when I was reading several large volumes, so forgetting entire sections was only reasonable. If it is dementia, then how fortunate that I can be satisfied with my library as it is. I can simply re-read books every few years and they’ll all seem perfectly new.

Books that I recommend buying for reading and re-reading. They will bring readers years of enjoyment.

Books that I recommend buying for reading and re-reading. They will bring readers years of enjoyment.

There are a few in my family who are vigilant for signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We’ve experienced this with our loved ones, and every time we walk into a room and forget why we came in, we check ourselves as though we may have begun that downward spiral.

The awareness of memory loss has to be the most terrifying part. My grandmother, until her final years, had a great long-term memory, and you could sit with her and she’d tell you all about her dating life in the 1920s, her elopement with my grandfather and various funny incidents from childhood. She would speak with me, having forgotten how we were related, so she was free to spill the details she’d always kept so guarded.

Her short-term memory had started to go at least 20 years before her death, and after approximately five years of denial at the beginning, she had to admit that she was not the self-assured woman that she had once been. To keep herself on track, she labeled photographs; not on the back, but on the front. You’d see “Grace, Me, Mama” scrawled beneath faces so that she didn’t have to turn them over to figure out who they were. Honestly, if she’d had to turn them over, she might’ve forgotten what she was looking for before she turned the photo back around.

She explained to me once that she kept a calendar, and she marked half of an X across the day when she got up every morning, and on her way to bed, she marked the other half. That way she knew what day she was on. I asked her what happened if she second-guessed herself. “If you’re not careful, you’ll be on next Tuesday a week before the rest of us.”

I had to make a joke because the truth of her memory loss was too painful to bear without humor. Besides, if my remark had hurt her feelings, she was at the point that she forgot it in about an hour never to think of it again.

There came a point when the memory loss was so advanced that she forgot that she forgot, if that makes any sense. She had settled into an existence where she no longer feared her memory loss or worried that someone would discover her. She believed that she was still doing the same things that she’d always done every day; things, which she had been doing in one form or another for over 80 years.

If you brought her fresh garden produce for lunch, she would tell you how she’d grown it. If you baked bread, she’d tell you how she had always baked her own bread and had never bought it. When I would go for lunch on Fridays, I would take out her garbage. I would go out the back door, but come back in through the front. It only took a couple of minutes at that stage to forget I’d been there. I would burst through the door with the excitement of just arriving, and she would be excited to have a visitor once more. I never bothered to correct her. She wouldn’t have remembered, and why ruin a purely joyous moment?

Forgetting that she forgot things was probably a blissful stage, as she no longer worried about anything. Eventually she stopped wondering where her car was, what bills needed to be paid, what letters she’d not yet responded to, and whether or not she needed to drop off food for a bereaved family.

On her 90th birthday, it was a stormy day. I was the first visitor to arrive, and she was holding a stack of birthday cards that one of the nurses had brought to her earlier in the afternoon. We started going through them, and once we made it to the end and the rest of the family had still not arrived, she started going through the stack a second time as if she’d never seen them. I was fascinated by the fact that she started on the third round of opening cards, and all the sentiments and best wishes seemed brand new to her.

If she’d been inclined to read at that point, she might’ve only needed a single book for the rest of her life. Indeed, she might’ve only needed a single newspaper, which wouldn’t have to be replaced until it had become completely unreadable due to wear and tear.

Aging can be a hellish experience, and I’m doing everything I can to maintain my physical abilities and my mental faculties. However, genetics plays a role and if I do end up forgetting the short term, may I recall and tell about the early days with fervor. Also, let me quickly get to the place where I forget that I forget.

© 2015 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”