Yesterday arrived, July 1, probably the most beautiful day of the year. The freakish spring heat wave has been replaced by cool, almost chilly summer nights that lend the mornings a delicious hint of autumn. Yesterday was blustery and almost cool in the shade, with a sky of racing rags of white cloud against a field of crystal blue, like an October sky. Only it’s still sunny and summer, green and jolting with life.
I had lunch with a friend downtown, early at 11 a.m., and there was no one on the streetside patio but us, even in the busy heart of downtown. I put sugar in my coffee and the paper packets blew away in the wind that pushed the white clouds so swiftly across the sky. I told my friend that autumn had been my favorite season for years, but as I grew older I had learned to love summer.
She said she thought it might be because I am a plant person, and summer is when plants do their utmost, live their utmost. I said I thought she had an excellent point. Summer is so alive. Spring feels like the awakening of something sleeping or dead, fall like decline, winter like a little death. Summer alone seems utterly alive and devoted to life.
It’s summer and I am back in love with my garden. Six years of a combination of hard work and unchosen neglect have left me with a garden that’s both coming together and getting sloppy. I am finally learning to amend the soil, place plants according to their need (not mine), buy annuals. The empty spaces in my landscape are filling up with rhododendron, blueberry, lavender and stonecrop. Gladiolus, calla lily, and at last, my first dahlias. But meanwhile the side bed is taken over by mugwort, a pretty weed.
But I’ve learned to accept things as they are. I can live with the mugwort until I have time and money and knowledge enough to deal with it, and meanwhile enjoy the annual blooming of my Queen of the Night cactus, a plant whose flowers are so lovely I have considered having a party based around sitting in the front yard and watching the night-blooming fragrant white flowers open in the suburban darkness.
I never have done it, but it’s always a party for me when they open. I am batshit crazy for that plant.
About a month ago, in the middle of the night, an ambulance with no siren on whisked my elderly neighbor away to the hospital. I usually sleep like a stone, so the lights and sound through my open bedroom windows woke me only enough to make me wonder, still half intoxicated with sleep, if I should get dressed since the ambulance had come for me. The next morning I realized what must have happened, that Nell had been taken in the night.
She thought she had food poisoning, but it was intestinal blockage and she had to have a section of her intestine removed. She spent a few weeks in the hospital, then a few more in a nursing care center recovering. She finally came home on Monday.
The neighborhood is changing, with its elders declining and moving to places where their fragility is protected.
A few evenings ago I was knitting a string bag and watching So You Think You Can Dance when the firetruck came down the street again with no siren on and I knew it was happening again. That thing is like a herald of evil.
I walked outside with a sick heart to see whom the bell was tolling for, which of the people whose lives and faces I knew. I saw a young blond man who looked about 15 or 16, who had heard a call on his shortwave radio — for someone having a stroke.
I could see the truck had pulled up to the home of my neighbor Leonard, a man in his 80s. The young blond man, well-meaning but seemingly completely unaware that AN OLD MAN WAS HAVING A STROKE ACROSS THE STREET and his brain might be darkening like the lights in a house going out at night one by one, tried to talk to me like we were just neighbors out for a walk. So young, to not understand this was no place and time to be normal.
I walked across the street to my neighbor Ruth, in her 70s, in a green nightgown on the porch, crossing her arms against the nighttime cold. She and Leonard have been buddies for five decades. When I told her that Leonard was probably having a stroke my voice broke and I realized I was about to start crying.
Another neighbor joined us and as the attendants wheeled Leonard past us down the street on the way to feed him into the ambulance, Andie said, “We love you!” and I said “You hang in there, Leonard!” I had my arm around them and I felt like we were The Womenfolk of the neighborhood. The people who watch over when you are carried off by something beyond your control, and who hope you will be well soon.
And Leonard is well. He wasn’t having a stroke, though the doctors don’t yet know what’s wrong. They are trying him on different medications to fight the spells of being unable to move or speak, but he’s had a few good days in a row and could be home anytime.
I told my friend Randee about all the decline and change in my neighborhood — one elder is moving in with her nephew, and these two have had health crises. All these people are in their 80s or 90s. She said my street was on the verge of turning over just as hers had done twenty years ago when she first moved in. Many of her street’s elders died or moved to safer places and the reign of the neighborhood went to a younger generation of new parents and their children.
Which is what is happening here, slowly, though in a millennial twist it’s not quite families with kids who are moving in. One untenanted house was bought by an 83-year-old woman who lives alone. There’s the neighbor couple across from Leonard who are young, but have no children. There’s me–39, unmarried and childless. The street is indeed changing, but it’s not about to become Main Street USA with a family of four in every house. If ever streets really did that.
I told my neighbor Nell, the one who just came home, about all the changes on the street. She told me that she had seen the same thing happen when she moved in as a young mother, and she was one of the young ones on the street.
Of course. It’s not something that happens just once, this changing of the guard. It’s always happening. We all have our time to be young and our time to be whisked away in the night.
And everything in between.