I sent this to the local paper but never heard back. I sent it kinda late for the holidays so I thought it might not get published. Ah well. I'll just publish it my self.
“The black car is gone again. “
My mother and her mother before her were inveterate neighborhood watchers. They were not really gossip seekers; they were chroniclers of the comings and goings of folks. When mom is home in North Carolina she and I chat on the phone. She tells me about who is walking a dog and how many birds are at the feeder. I did not inherit this trait. My view out of a window is rather more visceral. I see colors and shapes and the passing of shadows. When Mom asks me who owns the black car I am at a loss.
“What black car?”
If Mom is at my window it’s because she’s here for the holiday visit, which became annual about four years ago. At dinner time I’d call her into the kitchen, she’d lean toward the window and announce with jubilation,” The lights are on! The lights are on!” The first few times she did it I thought she was looking at the lights in the windows of other apartments and didn’t understand the fanfare.
There is a deck on the back of a building on the other side of the parking lot. Each year after Thanksgiving it has been decorated with lights. I guess I had noticed them but never with the joy that Mom took in their nightly appearance.
Last year, shortly after Christmas, I snapped out of my window stupor one afternoon and noticed a guy taking down the lights. I half threw myself out of the window trying to get his attention. “Hey! Hey! I want to say thanks for the lights! My mother loves them! “
The light guy smiled and said something about having big plans for next year.
A few months ago my landlord asked me if I knew that Donald Casper had died. I didn’t think I knew Donald Casper but he showed me an announcement on which was a picture of someone I recognized.
I learned more about Mr. Casper and his untimely death, killed by a hit and run driver. I learned that he’d been an active member of the San Francisco community, so much so that the flag at city hall had been lowered to half mast after his passing. I didn’t know that guy. Had we met, we might not have been friends.
When you live in a city you have lots of these kind of relationships. A neighbor whom you never meet but you admire the garden they’ve planted in the small square of dirt under a tree. A crossing card with whom you exchange pleasantries until one day she is replaced by a younger person and you never get the chance to say goodbye. Relationships that live like small flashes of light that are only connected in random moments of reverie.
I am tempted to resolve to be more like Mom and Grandmom. But I know myself. The world outside my window is something more than scenery but I still don’t know who owns the black car. Mom is here for the holidays. I showed her all the articles written about Mr. Casper. We talk about how sad it is. And every night, when she comes into the kitchen for dinner I see her look toward the deck. She is still keeping track of comings and goings. For us he will always be the light guy.