A hoper dreams of doing

We have a real historical treasure on our street — an authentic log cabin from pre-Revolutionary days, built as a stopping post for soldiers traveling between posts (like Fort Necessity to Fort Pitt). It’s situated on a gorgeous 3-acre lot, lovingly cared for by its longtime owners, Thelma and Bob, now in their late eighties or early nineties. They actually live in the house behind ours; their lot was once part of ours until the owner subdivided it so his son, Bob, could build on it. (So yes, that means Bob, now 90 or so, grew up in the house we live in, and now lives just one house behind it.)

We see them frequently working at the cabin, caring for the house and grounds, and every morning their headlights shine in our bedroom window as they set out on some daily ritual — coffee perhaps? They are lovely, vibrant people, and we always welcome the chance to talk with them. Sometimes, though, it seems we only get together when the fence between our yards catches fire…

It’s kind of a hoot. Bob’s burn pile is in the very back corner of their lot, right next to the back corner of our lot and the dividing fence. Unfortunately, he likes to burn on windy days, the fence is old and decrepit (another “someday” project far down on the to-do list), and twice now, he’s caught it on fire.

Last Saturday, Chris next door called down that we were needed for fire-fighting detail (Bob had flagged her first, calling out “Little help! Little help!” as he smacked the ground with a rake and sent Thelma for a bucket of water.) A few minutes later, as we were busily tossing charred fence rails into our own burn pit and watching their fire for flare-ups, Thelma once again shared some stories of the cabin. She and her first husband bought the place when she was only in her early twenties and she has fascinating stories of its history and her life there over the years. They’re stories any writer (even a hack for hire like me) would drool over, and all I could think was, “This needs to be down on paper before it’s lost.”

Mike said as much, and she only laughed and said others had told her the same thing, but she was just so busy, she hadn’t found the time. I suggested all she had to do was talk into a tape recorder. Mike, the bold one, offered that I was a writer, and I immediately said I’d love to work with her on it.

We chatted for a half hour or so, then went back to our chores, with promises to stop by for a visit to see the cabin this summer and hear more stories.

If I was an assertive person, I’d knock on Thelma’s door tomorrow, tell her how much I’d love to help her capture the cabin’s history, and would work with her whenever she wanted, however she wanted.

But I am not that person.

Instead, I’ll hope for that visit this summer, hope to hear more stories, hope to say again how much I’d like to write them down for her, hope that somehow, magically, it will happen in spite of my shyness.

I’ve always been a hoper. Maybe someday I’ll be a doer. That’s what I’d really like to be when I grow up.

The vision must be followed by the venture.
It is not enough to stare up the steps — we must step up the stairs.
~Vance Havner

The house next door

It’s for sale. Sheriff’s sale. Since the owners up and abandoned it last spring, Mike and I have been alternately rejoicing they took their smelly dog enclosure with them (nothing like the scent of dog doo wafting over the shade garden) and worrying what would become of the place.

According to our neighbor, the house was nothing to look at 40 years ago when she was a kid and occasionally played with the kids who lived there then. Surely it’s gone downhill after a series of negligent owners. We fought mosquitoes all last summer because they left their above-ground pool full and water collected in the cover and was a nasty West Nile soup.

It’s an odd little house — yellow stucco — and may have been charming at one time. (Although more appropriate for the neighborhood known as “Spanish Villa” across the highway from us.) Now it’s just scary, complete with dangling icicle lights from Christmases past, plastic wrap on the windows, mold and branches on the roof (surely it leaks), and giant, poison ivy-infested evergreens all around. Not to mention a tumbledown shed, and that pool, wrapped in a large lattice-y deck/fence thing.

Even before it was abandoned, Mike and I made several forays across the property line to clean up fallen branches and prune overgrown trees and shrubs that were spoiling our view. I ruthlessly sprayed heavy-duty Round-Up on all the poison ivy I saw — which was considerable. We never interacted with (or really even saw) the owners, save for a couple encounters with their kids, whom I always felt sorry for. It was from one of the boys that I learned “We might be moving…” and crossed my fingers.

It’s been nice not having such negligent neighbors, but we’re worried about what might happen now that it’s up for sheriff’s sale in a few weeks. We’d love to have the property — our 50-foot-wide lot is so confining — but certainly don’t have the cash to blow on buying it and then having to worry about tearing down the house (I can’t imagine it could/should be saved). Plus the grounds are a disaster — even mowing the giant, sloping front yard (the house sits far back from ours) would be a challenge. Plus there’s no garage, which would have been a real selling point since ours is so inadequate, and only a LONG gravel driveway that washes down on the road all the time.

But, that frivolous right brain of mine can’t help but imagine what could be if we had the money and weren’t totally consumed with all the half-finished DIY projects on this side of the property line. How nice it would be to double the size of our lot — plant trees, fence it in, build a combination potting shed/garage with a studio above (hey, a girl can dream), design our own “secret garden.” A very Western PA version of A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun. (Yeah, we’d probably fly a Steeler flag somewhere, too.)

I long ago picked out the perfect spot to “connect” the two yards — a grand arbor or something right between these two trees…


Instead, we have to wait and see. Hope some good people buy the place and not gypsies, tramps, or thieves. Hope we don’t rue the day we didn’t take out a second mortgage to buy it ourselves. 

Oh, did I mention scenario #173? The one in which she opens a charming B&B that becomes a smashing success and pays for itself and lets her stop having to hack for hire and instead hack write purely for fun?

Right brain is nothing if not imaginative…


There’s a long, long trail a-winding into the land of my dreams. 
                                                                ~ Stoddard King, Jr.

“I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you”

I’ve always heard about “back door neighbors” — those you know well enough to go knocking on their back door for a cup of sugar or shoot the breeze with over a cup of coffee. In all the places I’ve lived, I’ve never had “those kind” of neighbors. Most were congenial enough, and I do still keep in touch occasionally with my former across-the-street neighbors, whom I love. The only bad experience was in my first house after the quiet old lady next door died and her son rented out the place to awful people who threw trash on my porch roof, filled my recycling bin with broken glass, tossed their trash bags in the 2-ft space between our houses, parked in my newly cleaned space after the blizzard of ′93, etc. When I was selling my place, the police actually showed up next door while an agent was showing my house to someone…sheesh.

Mostly though, “neighborliness” has meant polite nods and waves while pulling into our respective garages. Since moving here a couple years ago, though, I’ve been lucky enough to experience the true meaning of the word.

It’s all thanks to Chris next door — it’s the house she grew up in and inherited when her parents died. It sat empty for our first year here while she worked on fixing it up. When our fridge conked out on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, she gave us the key, let us fill her fridge, and even lent us a mini fridge to take with us. When the tree in our front yard had a huge limb come crashing down across the road while we were on vacation, she called to tell us about it and “not to worry” because the borough cleared the road and the rest didn’t look too bad. She’s invited us over for parties (and sent us home with doggie bags), we’ve sat around the fire in her back yard drinking beer on a beautiful summer night, we’ve shared each other’s tools, ladders, cans of soup, and the latest sightings at the bird feeder — most recently 2 woodpeckers that she called me to look out my living room window to see. We’ve lamented over the tiny victims of her bird dog and the “problem neighbors'” cat. We kibbitz regularly over the fence about our latest house projects (she single-handedly painted all the trim on her house over the summer), gardening (she runs the garden center at Wal-Mart — a dream-neighbor-come-true for me, the gardener wannabe), the Steelers, the way the neighborhood used to be when she was growing up — anything, really.

Though I’ve always been an advocate of “good fences make good neighbors” (and I still dream about having a yard surrounded by an 8-ft privacy fence someday), this sure beats living anonymously among virtual strangers. In fact, getting to know firsthand what Mr. Rogers always knew might just be my favorite thing about living here. Thanks, Chris!

While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier
because neighbors were so few, it is even more important
now because our neighbors are so many. 
                                             ~ Lady Bird Johnson