Thursday, February 3, 2011

Girls in Their Summer Clothes

Christian, who entered his phone number under the name “Boy of Destiny” in his father’s phone contacts, left his car key hanging in a locker of the Visitors’ locker room at the high school he played against in Friday evening’s game. The key is laser cut and apparently will cost $500 to replace. (Maybe our car dealer friend told him this to impress upon him the need to not lose the key).

So, once Christian gets off the team bus after the hour drive home, to discover no key, he calls in a panic. I spend the midnight hour scrolling through the high school’s directory, trying to match Head Custodian names to listings on DexKnows. Finally, Saturday morning, I stumble across Assistant Principal Stacy Salmans. How many men can there be named Stacy Salmans in one valley? So I call his home and talk to his wife.

By a series of nice-people-in-the-world events, Stacy Salmans’s wife calls Stacy Salmans who calls Athletic Director who leaves his house on a Saturday morning to travel to high school in neighboring town to retrieve Boy of Destiny’s key from the Visitors’ locker room. (Now, I just need Athletic Director to come walk University Avenue with me to try find Boy of Destiny’s basketball shoes which he left on top of his car this afternoon after practice as he pealed out of the school parking lot. Somebody else, other than Boy of Destiny, is now enjoying a pair of black 10.5 Nike Hyperfuses. I kid you not.)

So that’s why on a Monday morning, I am driving 45 minutes one way to Westlake, which, true to its name, is on the west side of the lake on who’s east side we live, with no way around it except around the north end. An unusually warm three days has melted the snow, revealing a winter landscape of blonde white winter grass and silver, ruffled winter ponds. I’m enjoying the drive.

There’s something soothing about driving when there’s no kick-off I’m racing to meet, no kids behind me controlling the iPod and jolting my synapses by only playing about one-third of every song. (Just as I figure out what words to sing they’re onto the next one. Drives me nuts.) It’s just me and the highway, in the middle lane, with my own iPod playing Pearl Jam, as it happens to be this morning. I can feel the warmth of the winter sun on my chest as it comes through the windshield. It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in snowy months. I’m smiling.

Our valley is benefitting from Obama’s federal dollars infusion program. Well, at least Layton Construction seems to be benefitting. They’re building miles and miles of new freeways along the same stretch they just rebuilt five years earlier. (Boy of Destiny is now breaking in his Kobe Zoom VI’s (look them up) by running up and down the hallway, and asking me as he sprints by, “Can you feel that wind?” I think he might have purposefully left the Hyperfuses on his car just so that he could get the Venominators.)

The highway I drove that morning is actually brand new. It’s misnamed Legacy Highway, and cuts a wide swath through historic cattle pastures and river lowlands. Along its sides have sprouted Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee housing developments: cul-de-sacs hanging like phalanges off a central spinal cord, filled with 3-garaged, 4-bedroomed, 5-bathroomed natural-colored stucco homes with a panel of river rock somewhere and mock-Monticello columns framing the entryway.

The yards to these homes are neat and orderly. The barbeque has its winter cover on. The Russian doll bicycles, each a little bigger than the one before, are stored, step-like, in bicycle racks. The Little Tykes slide is still bright orange, and the trampoline’s royal blue pad covering the springs is neatly tied. All this on 0.28 acres. These are the newcomers to the landscape, taking advantage of underground utilities, sound barriers with mock-Anasazi figures etched in relief, and a convenient on-ramp.

A few miles along, on the other side of the highway whose major legacy seems to be the destruction of natural habitat, sits another house. I’m thinking it was built back in the 1930s or 40s when Center Street ran straight out of the south side of Lehi and from the back pasture of the house to the tie-up outside Lehi Rollermills was a 25-minute horse ride.

The style is a version of a Dutch Gable, with a glass-paned sunroom on the back, and an overgrown orchard to the south. The front path runs straight from the road to a wide, shaded porch. To the north runs a hedge of trees, maybe poplars or Russian olives, which seem to stand along what must be the irrigation ditch. In the west field behind the house, the RV is parked in what seems like the spot of the last 17 years and counting. I can’t see how it’s getting out of there. I think the highway took out the west fence with its gate. To the south was, I am thinking, the horse pasture or alfalfa field. Now, it’s home to the legacy—a concrete behemoth of a shortcut for those drivers not wanting to meander through one-lane Main Street with its traffic circles, railroad tracks and 2 stop lights.

I have wondered about this house each time I’ve driven by. The symmetry of its placement has been destroyed. It looks like those pictures of hotels in the aftermath of an earthquake with the back wall torn away, where you can see the interrupted lives of the people unlucky enough to check in the night before. For this house, the privacy and solitude just got ripped away for convenience sake. Instead of a comfortable country mile between neighbors, now 300 cars an hour pass by not more than 150 feet from their kitchen door.

We’re close enough to see that they’re hanging the artificial grass outdoor carpet over the porch railing this morning, and that somebody left their muddy boots on the steps; that they just tossed the Christmas tree out the back door when they were done with it; and that the south side of the house, which was hidden from Center Street by the orchard, has served for decades as the resting ground of gas cans, farm contraptions, broken hoses, and empty 5 gallon fruit tree buckets. If I drove slowly enough, I swear I could see whether or not they need to water the geraniums on the kitchen windowsill. Poor things: they’re on parade.

I actually apologize to the house when I drive by—and wonder what has changed since voters in SUVs and F150s approved the bond. What sounds have been replaced by the slightly venomous hiss of night tires on concrete? What moon shadows used to shimmer their trail through the marsh grass to the kitchen window? No more neighbor’s barnyard light blinking in the poplars through the south pastures. All gone now—to ease the commute of people who want to live in their own solitude west of the lake.

I also wondered, as I drove by: If that were my house, and suddenly my thirsty geraniums, my muddy hunting boots, and my porch furniture left to overwinter and develop mildew on the back deck, was on display, would I clean it up? Would I put back the plastic grass runner on the deck as soon as it dried? Would I paint the peeling wood trim, or rehang the rain gutter and scrap the ploughs?

No. I don’t think I would. If providing bins for boots and recycling five-gallon buckets weren’t in me to do for myself when hidden by a row of Nordic spruces, I probably wouldn’t be able to summon up the energy to brighten the view for the unwelcome strangers who drive by. In fact, I’d probably let it get just a little worse. Serve them right.


I don’t even know why I wrote this. I just felt bittersweet, driving that day. A peaceful stolen few hours, with a winter sun that was warmer than it should have been, on a road that was smooth and sleek in its newness. And then, that house.

Seeing it evoked the regret that always fills me when I see a freeway or a gilded glass and faux marble hotel wrapped, tumor-like, around the decrepitly proud bones of a Queen Anne mansion. Similarly, I flinch when I see that self-contained former farmhouse with stained-glass window in the front white gable and a rose-lined path that runs into a twenty-foot retaining wall because zoners and planners and voters decided that that particular front garden, circa 1872, was the best place to put Exit 372A. Fills me with visions of bones and dreams.

Title, "Girls In Their Summer Clothes," by Bruce Springsteen

1 comment:

  1. You may not know why you wrote it, but I'm glad you did nonetheless. I love the way you think, and I love the way you record it.