All Broken Up

Posted on Wednesday, October 26 2005 by Heather Brandon

This morning I followed my ordinary school-day routine. The kids were ready to head out, coats on, backpacks mounted. I sent my daughter across the street to fetch our first-grader neighbor so we could escort her to school, as we do every day. These days, she is usually waiting for us in the first-floor apartment, that of her very friendly landlady, who is also coincidentally the only neighbor who really welcomed us after we moved in. Her holiday 2004 handwritten note to us said, “It is so nice to have generous people like you move here.”

Today the landlady came out with the kids to greet us and to ask me a question. From across the street, she yelled over to me, “Does this need to be fixed?” and with her arms, she indicated a broad sweeping motion across the front of her house, but also with her hands, showing that she was referring to my house.

Oh no, I thought, she doesn’t like the fact that our dilapidated front porch is increasingly falling apart, and in need of cosmetic repair. “The porch?” I replied. English is not the landlady’s first language. She is from Puerto Rico.

“No,” she said, “this part,” and indicated what I thought was her driveway. A speeding car zoomed by and made it hard to hear each other so I walked over, thinking, what? The driveway? One side of our house was recently paved so she can’t be asking me about that. The other side, yes, it’s in disrepair but we share that with the neighbor, and we’ve been working up the nerve to ask them about how to divide the driveway reasonably. Is she trying to offer me paving services? I had these thoughts as I crossed the street. “This part, here,” she motioned again, and this time, I finally got it: the sidewalk.

“Oh, the sidwalk,” I said, grinning, “sure,” and I shrugged. Some of our sidewalk is definitely falling apart, but it’s a lot more intact than that of our neighbors two doors down.

“I want to write a letter to the city,” she explained. “They want us to keep up the house, but they need to keep up the sidewalk.” Her actual sentences were peppered with little words in Spanish, separating the clauses.

“Right,” I agreed. “So they will, if we write to them?” She nodded. “Do you want my signature?”

“Yes,” she said, “so I will write the letter, and then bring it to you—”

“—To sign?” I guessed.

“Well, yes, but to check my English!” she laughed. I laughed, too.

Later, I took a walk to the park with a friend toting her one-year-old in an umbrella stroller. As we bopped and popped our way down the sidewalk, or what’s left of it, I felt grateful for my neighbor.

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