One very long street I walk up is an interesting mixture of "Rural poor" and "rural rich." There are two farms on the street, one is so clean and pretty that you wonder if the vegetables are grown in dirt. The other is old, shabby, and has numerous old tractors and pickup trucks rusting away.
There are fairly new houses that easily cost over a million dollars, along with some '70s "tickytacky" houses, along with some smaller, older houses that are probably over 100 if not 200 years old. This means that there is a mixture of houses with lawns so lush you'd think they measured each blade of grass and clipped it with manacure scissors, while other lawns are a sea of crabgrass. Some houses look as if they are washed every morning, they are so bright, while others have peeling paint. Some folks drive BMWs, some folks drive VWs, some folks drive whatever the hell they could get for cheap at the used car lot.
Yet, at least from what I can tell, they all live in fair harmony. People wave at each other as they're getting their mail, they wave to me when I'm walking with a bit of a puzzled look like, "I know we've seen her walking down this road lots of times, but where does she live? And why is her face covered with all those scratches? Was she trying to french kiss a raccoon?" Okay, maybe the last part is a bit exagerated. But as I said, while we have obviously a varitey of different incomes represented in this street, and a variety of attitudes about how one should care for their house, these people work it out.
There is one house though, that is a bit shabbier than most. It has siding, but clearly it is old and cheap, because parts of it are falling away. The yard is a sea of brown with the occational green only because dandelions have managed to take hold. The driveway is old and cracked, patched up a bit with tar, giving the impression that black snakes are resting about it.
There are a couple old cars in the end of the driveway that look as if they've been there for a long time and aren't going anywhere fast. Often the garage door is open and it's full of bicycles, toys. and junk. It is a house where clearly people live and play hard. It is the house of people who have known both good and bad in life and have probably lived one or two paychecks away from being homeless a good portion of their lives. It is also a house though, that almost every weekend seems to have something going on. When I walk on Saturdays, I often see lots of cars parked around and I can smell meat cooking from a BBQ. It's never too loud and obnoxious, but there are noises of people happily enjoying their weekend.
There is a fence outside this house, up near the road. A split rail fence that can't keep anything out, no doubt originally put there more for scenic value. Because of the trees in the yard, it is always in the shade, therefore, it is always wet and moss grows about it. It leans drunkenly towards the road, almost as if leering to the cars that pass it. If you were to give it a good kick, it would probably fall away into a pulpy mass.
Next door to this house is a house of someone who appears to have a lot more money and wants to keep their home in pristene condition. The house is perfect, the lawn is perfect, they have beautiful gardens of lovely flowers and red cedar chips. It is a lovely house, the type you expect to see in some magazine.
Today, as I'm walking by these two places, a woman in the beautiful house is getting her mail. Her mailbox is right near the end of the old, tired, fence. She gets her mail, then looks at the fence and shakes her head. As I'm walking by, she says to me, "It's so ugly."
I look at the fence. I've seen it before, but I've never really studied it. And, I can see a bit what she means. I see the rot, I see the moss and lichen growing freely about it. I can see the rusted nails where someone attempted to make repairs. I can tell the woman next door looks at it and sees a hungry, lurking, presence that gobbles greedily at her property values, chewing hundreds of dollars away day by day.
I also see dozens and dozens of ribbons tied around the fence. That type of ribbon that curls when you run it along the blade of your scissors. For a split second, I wonder why that is, then I realize it was to hold balloon boquets that I've seen tied onto the fence on some of the Saturdays they've entertained. Obviously, what they do is clip off the dead balloons, but leave the ribbon still tied to the fence.
The woman sees me and says, "They can't even cut the strings. It's so ugly."
I look at those strings, and I start seeing something in them. I see what once were pristeen white ribbons, probably signifying a christening or a wedding. I see silver and white ribbons, probably signifying a wedding. I see purple and white ribbons, maybe for a birthday party, or perhaps those are the school colors of someone who graduated.
There are green ribbons maybe representing St. Patricks day. Orange and black ribbons that no doubt, supported mylar pumpkins and Happy Halloween messages are there too. And here are gold and red ones. College colors? Or, perhaps a party for a young child where Winnie The Pooh was the theme.
Over there are some light blue ribbons, showing that this family welcomed a baby boy into the family. Not too far away, there is a bunch of pink ones, signifying a girl as well. Over here are a combination of blue and pink. Twins maybe? Or, maybe just for a baby shower where it wasn't yet known what sex the baby was going to be.
There are other circles of ribbons, no doubt representing birthdays, Christmas, and maybe even "Hey, let's throw a party, shall we?" And I'm realizing that this old fence tells the story of a family that may not have the money the people next door have, but they have lived and are living life to the fullest. They celebrate happy times by gathering those they care about around them to share this happiness. And they mark these events with rings of ribbons around an old, beat-up fence.
I turn to the neighbor. "I think it's beautiful."
I didn't bother to explain, and she was giving me that look that clearly said, I must be one of them if I felt that way. She'll never get it, not in a million years. She marks the passage of time with calenders and neat little pictures in neat little photo albums. You'll never be able to tell from the outside of her house, what wonderous things have happened on the inside.
The people with the fence have so much more than she does. And she'll never figure it out.