It is not often that having one’s driveway pressure washed leaves an indelible memory, but it happens.
Yesterday my husband came inside from his yard work to tell me he’d hired someone to pressure wash our driveway –to remove the mildew, then fill in the cracks with cement.
“When did you do that? If you’d told me, I have coupon specials from several companies.”
“It wasn’t a company. It was a man with his wife and little girl. He stopped to ask for the work. And yes, I read the e-mail.”
Dearly Beloved was talking about the Neighborhood Watch e-mail I forwarded to him last week… the one discouraging any buying from door-to-door solicitations.
“REAL-LY…??” I asked. It was so unlike him.
“They’ve gone to Lowe’s to get the supplies. I told him I wouldn’t pay, though, until the job is completed.”
He knows I worry about flimflammers, he but trusts his own instincts.
The three were back soon, setting up the pressure washer. Surprisingly, it was the woman who operated the large machine. I am not certain exactly what was left for the man to do, since the cracks wouldn’t be filled until the washing was completed. He told DB that he had been a musician and a song writer, having some success before finally taking to heart some advice that he’d never make it to the big time. He left Nashville and came here.
The family looked like the people you might see across from you in church or at a Little League game… but you won’t. It became more and more obvious that they had no time for either. They work seven days a week.
DB showed the little girl our tree swing, then took out the basketball and lowered the hoop to a proper height for an eight-year-old. The swing is too high for little feet to touch to touch the ground, but she did not ask for a starting push, probably the first child who’s ever used it not to do so. Before she could get it going high enough, however, her dad called her.
“Sis, I want you to watch so that you can learn how to do this,” and she obediently went over to observe. The photos he had shown DB of his work had included one of an older daughter working on a pool.
DB stood at the window, watching the woman work, and remarked to me more than once about how careful and thorough she was being. He talked to the couple several times throughout the day.
“Times are tough and they have four kids. He wanted to coat the driveway, but I told him we weren’t interested in doing that right now.” It would have tripled the price.
The little girl seemed fascinated by Miss Piggy, our cocker spaniel. She petted her gently and Miss Piggy wagged her rear end before moving on to check for thistle seeds. Sis followed Miss Piggy around the yard, careful not to intrude on her space.
About the time a burning smell began to permeate the house, DB came in to tell me that something was wrong with their machine, so they’d return tomorrow to finish. They were less than halfway through. DB paid them part of the agreed sum so they could to buy materials for the next day which they expected to go faster. They said that the little girl would not have to come back with them.
The phone rang about noon today and it was the man, saying that they’ll be here as soon as they finish another job they already had going. When they arrive about an hour later, the little girl is still with them, as is a boy–her little brother–whose features are very like his sister’s brown eyes and freckles. Little Brother looks around for our dog as soon as he gets out of the car–the sister must have told him about her.
Yesterday I was not in any interaction with them except to smile and wave, but today I begin to observe.
The two children are polite and very kind to each other, taking turns on the swing without any arguing. Little Brother comes inside once, holding his jaw, saying his tooth hurts. Sis follows him, saying that she thinks he has a loose tooth.
The dad has asked for water and DB finds four bottles of raspberry-flavored water in the pantry. I fill a jug with ice water and he takes it all out to the family. The machine they brought today is much smaller, so the job is not going as quickly as planned.
“It’s going to take them all day,” DB tells me, gesturing sympathetically toward the woman bent over the pressure washer.
The children come in to use the bathroom. “Your house is beautiful,” Sis tells DB politely as she enters. DB shows them the bathroom and when they finish and go out to the porch swing, he whispers. “They live in a hotel.”
It is a gut punch to hear that. I know he would never ask personal questions, so one of them must have volunteered that information.
Later, I ask Little Brother if he goes to school.
“No. Daddy says if I don’t go next year, they’ll send me away,” in the same matter-of-fact tone that he’d mentioned having two dogs that were stuffed animals, not real.
I dig out a couple of coloring books, drawing paper, and colored pencils to entertain them and brother and sister sit outside on the sunny deck where their parents can see them. I tell DB what Little Brother has said and he replies that Sis said something about Little Brother’s brain not being right, that he has nightmares.
The day wears on. DB spends a great deal of time outside with them, ignoring the basketball playoffs he’d planned to watch. The three of them watch the birds at the feeders and listen to their songs. The birds have obliged by showing up in color–bluebirds, cardinals, goldfinches.
The boy comes inside with a nosebleed, a swing casualty. Sis brings in the coloring books and the pencils which she has placed neatly back in the box. She hands Dearly Beloved a picture she has drawn. She has personalized it to him and signed her name.
It is a drawing of Miss Piggy.
DB, delighted, takes it outside to show her parents, then comes back in to get the phone book.
“He’s diabetic and he says he didn’t eat lunch and is feeling faint. He asks would I order a pizza for them.”
I look at him silently.
“He says he’ll pay for it,” he adds a bit defensively.
That wasn’t why I was staring. “We have frozen pizzas. Would they eat those?”
He pulls out our stash of buy-two, get-three-free pizzas and takes them outside to the man, who reads the ingredients and chooses the two Marguerite pizzas. While I’m baking them, DB assembles a tray of drinks and utensils which he sets on the deck table. He tells me that Sis confided she doesn’t believe there is a tooth fairy, even though the kids at school say there is, because she’s put every tooth under her pillow and the tooth fairy never comes. She’s concerned that Little Brother’s teeth will meet a similar fate.
Little Brother comes in, disappointed that Miss Piggy is showing no interest in playing and asks me, “What does she like to do?”
I explain that Miss Piggy is old and that she likes to take naps.
“I know that,” he tells me in a tone which indicates he’d expected more from me. “The man already told me all about her.”
The man. Later I hear him telling DB something I’d said, referring to me as “the woman.” He’s mentioned earlier that “the people” where he lives hate him.
I slice the pizzas and DB takes them outside, calling out, “Pizza is served.” Miss Piggy decides that she’ll go outside after all. The four of them sit down to pizza with a cocker spaniel weaving in and out of their feet (to Little Brother’s delight) in a vain search for crumbs.
Sis comes in after they finish eating and whispers to DB, “I didn’t know her name,” gesturing toward me.
“It’s Mary. M-a-r-y,” he says, and she retrieves her drawing from the mantel for alteration, then brings it to me, smiling shyly. She has added my name.
They don’t finish until after 8:30. The mother has done all the cement filling, too. Except for the quick pizza break, she has not stopped for even so much as a bathroom break during the 7 1/2 hours they’ve been here, refusing to come in the house. The children are tired and sleepy so DB has asked to bring them inside.
The four of us watch a PBS children’s show and the little boy says, “I can count to 5. I used to could count to 10, but I forgot how.”
DB helps him remember 7, the missing number. “I like talkin’ to you guys,” the little fellow tells us.
We continue to sit together on the sofa until their parents come to the front door to collect them and receive payment.
DB pays them in cash. It’s too dark to even see what they’ve done. The man says they need to buy supplies for tomorrow’s job and figure something out about the pressure washer. With the outlay of equipment and materials they’ve had to buy, I’m not sure how well they’ve fared in profits.
The little ones have charmed us. There is something very special about the little girl, the way she has tended to her brother, her quiet dignity, that sweet smile never faltering. She is obviously very insightful and intelligent. In one of her conversations with DB, she confided that “when she was little” she’d sometimes wish she was a spider, because they create such beautiful webs and can live and play on them without breaking them. DB says she said it much more poetically than he can re-tell it.
He does not tell the story to the parents when he compliments them on their children.
Her mother tells him that when they pick Sis up after school, the teachers always seem to give her a special hug and tell her how much they enjoy having her child in the class.
We thank them, say goodbye, and they drive away. They’ll have to return the too-small pressure washer and make more materials investment before they can start tomorrow’s job.
I wonder, but don’t ask, what the little boy will do in the morning. Will he spend the day with his parents at the parking lot job scheduled for tomorrow? Sis will go to school, to the teacher who dispenses hugs and encouragement.
Our school system, even after previous rounds of cutbacks, announced last week that 500 teachers, librarians, and counselors will be let go next year. What will those cuts mean to these children and others like them?
Will someone be there to help change their nightmares into dreams?
For every Bird a Nest —Wherefore in timid quest–Some little Wren goes seeking round — Emily Dickinson
Ever wondered how you would fare in dire circumstances? May this test be the only way you’ll ever have to see.
One out of every 50 children in America is homeless.
60 Minutes segment on homeless children in Florida.