Teri Orr: Destructing, deconstructing, defining a ‘hood’
The tiny gathering was neither maudlin nor celebratory; more like a stop, a pause, really, at a station of the cross in the life of a neighborhood. It had come about simply enough- an early Sunday morning exchange of conversation and nut bread with a neighbor.
We commented on the passing of a piece of our long lives in our neighborhood. The home, which sat across the street from me for 40-plus years and next door to my neighbors, had sold at the beginning of COVID for $2M. Its last inhabitant, our friend, had passed away. His boys/adult men had returned for the final chapter of their father’s life and then stayed on for a bit to sell the home.
The new owners leased it out for the last year before they were ready to bulldoze the tired structure and create a new space for themselves.
And while we have all heard this story happening all over town, the county, the country, it somehow feels both more ethereal and concrete when the heavy equipment comes and noisily gobbles up whole rooms with an exacting timbre of the timber and the metal crunch and scoop.
We watched it all week. Along with a couple of trees disappearing, the familiar had become foreign. So we decided Sunday morning to meet at the destruction site in the late afternoon and have a toast.
And we did.
My friends pulled out some metal chairs and had crystal champagne flutes. I brought the bubbles and the chocolate. And we sat in the shade of their trees on the edge of the now-naked lot and remembered our friends, Bruce and Candy Erickson, who had made that house their home.
After Candy passed about a decade ago, Bruce struggled to keep himself and the house functional. She had been a beloved staffer at Colesport, a smart, tough City Council person and a tennis fanatic. She loved tinkering in her little garden. He was a runner with his shock of thick white hair. The Grey Ghost, someone had labeled him when they saw him on his early, early morning runs…
Bruce had worked in the world of engineering and building and zoning and understanding the nuances of how things flowed downhill at ski areas the world over. When he passed, his boys found a Purple Heart ( most likely from the Vietnam era) among his valuables, something they had never been told about, which was right in character with the very, very private man.
In what we think of as the apex of connectivity in our hood, three Holy Cross nuns had lived across the street from Bruce and Candy and next to me for a bunch of years. They changed all our lives with their lack of judgment and their simple love of their quirky, irreverent neighbors.
They tutored Bruce’s son. They lent us books. They made great meals. Many an evening was spent in our collective driveways or yards and involved toasting the day’s end.
We sat there for over an hour on Sunday as the day was leaving. And then, when it felt right, my neighbors unceremoniously grabbed the metal chairs, and we went our ways. There were no tears or wailing or rendering of clothes. It would have been out of character for all of us and somehow disrespectful of the once plainly functional home.
A few nights later, I was out in my new backyard – three doors down from my old one- at the magic hour the Scottish call, in the gloaming. When the day is done, mostly, but it is not yet night—the veil between the times. There is light enough to see, but the sun has set. I was checking on the birdfeeders and the nibble count the bunnies had taken on the strawberry plants and other growing things when a soft noise caused me to look up.
At first, I didn’t know where to look. And then I looked to the top of my roof, next to the chimney, and saw the owl. He was beautiful, with layers and layers of feathers running crisscrossed all over his body. It wasn’t exactly a hoot I was hearing- more like a deep hum. I sat and watched him for several long minutes while he did that exorcist head spin thing, trying to survey my yard.
He was huge. Even from my spot on the deck, maybe 20-plus feet below him, I could tell he was huge. I have had owls visit me before- but those were always at my old house. This guy was greyer -different and bigger and imposing but in a comforting sort of way.
I know different traditions have certain belief systems built around the owl appearing. The most common is a symbol of death. But more than a decade ago, a Ute spiritual leader ( we no longer say medicine man) told me I was being too literal with the whole death analogy.
He said to think of it more as the death of a way of being, the death of a view you no longer need to hold, the death of a relationship that needed to end to allow something new to grow. It wasn’t always a human death. And not only was it not always bad- it was, more often – good.
And while we know from the calendar it is a month before summer officially turns to fall, we feel it already. The crispness in the morning. The sun setting earlier. The children back in school. The first yellow/orange tree at the ski hill popping thru the evergreen curtain any day now.
To everything, there is a season: humans and houses and halcyon days. For now, I will gather the memories and pay attention to the owls and the backhoes and the good humans who create community. All the days, all the Sundays in our Park…
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