Sunday, August 27, 2006

The 'Hood

It's been two years today since Max died (my ex, who left Maxwell House to us), and tomorrow will mark 25 years since my mother died.

Twenty-six years ago (1980), I was living in the garage apartment out back (Max and I divorced in 1973), and my sister was living in Apt. A, which is now, since Tomcat and I have moved into the house, our living room, dining room, and kitchen.

That year was the worst heatwave on record for Dallas. This year's heatwave, as horrible as it is, does not even come close - it's ranked seventh behind 1980. The highest official temperature was recorded that year - 113. I remember that day vividly. I was working in the concrete canyons downtown at the time, and when I left the office around 5:00 and exited the revolving doors, I was hit with a blast of heat that made me gasp for air. The time-and-temp sign on a nearby bank registered 121 degrees. On one of those days, the air conditioning went out where my mother lived at the time, in an apartment complex a couple of miles away. I went to pick her up immediately to stay the night. I don't remember the statistics, but I do know that a lot of people died that year from heatstroke.

Back then at Maxwell House, everyone stayed indoors in the evening because it was too hot to go out on the patio. It's the same way this year, even though the patio's overgrown and there's no place to sit out there anyway. I have a picture of how it used to look, and some day we'll excavate to uncover the brick pathways and all the slate underneath the vegetation. That's a low priority since we have other things to do first - like update the electrical system, have some foundation work done, and put a new roof on.

The garage apartment where I used to live is now a studio for my friend Grace, the artist, who lives a couple of blocks away. The garage is - or will be - Tomcat's workshop. Grace fell in love with the place when she was looking for a studio because "It's me; it's old and funky and leans to the left." (Grace is a few years younger than I, so of course she can't be old.) The whole building IS leaning, but Tomcat assures me it isn't about to fall down.

I didn't really have a point when I started this post - it's just a day of remembering how things used to be around here. There was an old lady who lived in Apt. D upstairs - which is now our bedroom and "morning kithen." Her name was Nellie. She would watch for me to come home from work sometimes, and when I drove up in the driveway, she'd holler from the back stairs that she had made some "nanner puddin," because she knew that was one of my favorites. What a sweetie, dear old Nellie. Some years later, Nellie moved away - to get married to a 93-year-old man she met at church!

When Max first bought the place, long before I lived in the garage apt., he also had two other houses on the same block - all rental properties filled with rats and roaches. He always referred to it as his "rat-killin business" because that's literally what he did for the first few years - get rid of the rats, the roaches, and the two-legged vermin (mostly druggies) who lived on the block. Little by little he'd evict for nonpayment of rent, clean up and fix up, raise the rent a bit, and screen new tenants. When we'd talk on the phone sometimes, he'd say, "Well, I've got to back to my rat-killin." He'd mow almost all of the lawns on the street, haul the trash, and he'd call the cops every time the low-lifes across the street stood out in the yard drinking and shooting guns into the air. It took a long time, but now the block is clean, quiet, and peaceful.

He sold the other two houses. One was torn down, and the other has been fixed up very nicely by the new owners. The trashy houses across the street are gone and have been replaced with some well-managed condos. This side of the street is a long row of 100-year-old prairie-style houses, and the block has just been included in a new historic district.

Well, I've got to get back to my rat-killin. :)