Steve and Ardene have a place at the lake, but they live ’round the corner from us, on the edge of the ghetto. Mike and I were walkin’ the dog one Saturday. We walk towards the east … two blocks east and you’re among manicured lawns and golden retreavers. Back in the ‘hood, and one block west of our place, Steve was on the sidewalk near his house, poking a rake handle at some shoes draped over the telephone wires. “Shoes hangin’ over the lines like that means a drug dealer lives here,” said Steve; and I had no idea how he would know that, or if it’s even true. Steve and Ardene were missionaries to Africa most of their lives; and then when they retired they moved back to a neighborhood no longer predominantly Dutch.
Ardene was my middle son’s teacher in first grade, and Steve was my husband’s best man at our wedding. We chatted with Steve while he tried to snag the shoes down off the line. Then we headed home with our dog. I suppose he eventually got the shoes down.
They had us up to their cottage at the Big Lake once. We walked the beach, and then went indoors and played dominoes. Steve and Ardene are older than Mike and me, ‘though not by a lot. Their kids are our age, I guess … but my own folks were roughly 20 when I was born, and 20 years age difference isn’t so much when you’re in your late 40s. So Steve and Ardene were 60-something. Big deal.
But Steve up and died one day, while we were eating dinner. We heard the ambulance come ’round the corner. Wondered about it. That’s all.
Next morning, Steve’s daughter knocked at the back door. Wanted to tell us herself. He died on his birthday. Gettin’ ready to take Ardene to dinner, where they’d meet all their kids, to celebrate Dad’s birthday.
It snowed the day of Steve’s funeral. Hadn’t snowed that winter till that day. Their church was like a gymnasium. Not very Dutch, even though it was CRC. We all sat on folding chairs. The place was packed, though. Had a nice luncheon, after, I suppose. Steve’s funeral luncheon kinda melds in together with other funeral luncheons I’ve attended through the years. Cake and coffee and white paper over long tables with people scattered here and there. Probably some ham on buns, potato chips, potato salad, large assortment of jello salads made by ladies from the church.
“I want you to know, I will be okay,” Ardene told us next time we saw her. “I don’t want you to worry — Steve left me okay off. I don’t plan to move. I plan to stay.” Those of us who still take care of our house and lawn, this close to the ghetto, sometimes reassure each other that we’re stayin’. It’s not the color of our skin that matters — any neighbors who take care of their place and don’t let their kids run wild are excellent neighbors far as we’re concerned.
Sometimes when I drive through town on my way to work, I see shoes draped over the telephone lines, and I wonder whether Steve was right — that they mean something, I mean.
So shoes that dangle, as those in this photo do, even though they’re at the beach, make me think about Steve, and encroachment by drug dealers, and once-lovely neighborhoods with absentee landlords, and ghetto-edgers like us, who think if you plant enough flowers everybody will remember that Time Began in a Garden.