“Wrong Alley,” Friend, July 1991, 8
Gary and I met at the corner of Walnut and Grove. There was nothing to do, so we just nodded at each other and kept walking along Walnut. At Ace’s Bike Shop a really neat racing bike was parked out front. I swung my leg over the seat and wiggled the handle bars back and forth a couple times.
Mr. Smith came outside. “Nice bike, Skip—it’s on sale this month too.”
I hopped off. “We’re just looking.”
Gary and I started walking away.
“Stop back any time,” Mr. Smith called. “Ask for me.”
I waved. “OK.”
At Wallace’s Used Books, we rummaged through the racks for a while, then went back outside.
“Which way?” Gary asked.
I nodded toward the alley. “Let’s go that way. It should take us to the park.”
Gary shrugged, and we walked along Reed Alley and watched the little kids playing. When we got to Nelson Street, I realized we’d taken the wrong alley to get to the park, so we sat on the low concrete wall that surrounds the fire station parking lot and watched firefighters wash their truck.
“Some summer this is going to be!” Gary said with a sigh. “This is boring, Skip! Plus, it’s hot!”
I frowned. “At least we’re not sitting in a classroom, so quit complaining!” I swung my legs back and forth, but inside I had to admit that Gary was right. It was boring. Then I saw an elderly woman across the street a half a block away from where we sat. Her front yard was tiny, but she must have had a hundred rose bushes. In front of her yard was a low stone wall that separated her yard from the sidewalk. The yard was so small and tight that she could barely turn around—at least with a lawn mower, and that’s what she was trying to do. Her lawn mower had to be one of the first ones ever made, and she looked like a good breeze would blow her away. She needed help!
“Let’s go give her a hand,” I suggested.
Gary frowned. “Who?” Then he saw her. “She’ll just tell us to mind our own business,” he muttered.
I shook my head and stood. “Naw. We’ll just tell her we want to help.” I started toward her. She struggled on. First she’d push the lawn mower six inches ahead, then drag it back and push again.
“What if we scare her and she has a heart attack?” Gary asked. “A lot of old people don’t like to be bothered. What if she thinks we want to rob her?”
I chuckled. “Get serious! Do we look like the criminal type?”
As we neared, she must have thought we did, because she eyed us suspiciously. When I stopped at her front steps, she looked really scared. I gave her my friendliest smile. “Want some help?” I offered.
She stared at me as if I had just dropped in from another planet. “I can manage,” she replied in a timid voice.
“Honestly,” I said as I touched the handle of the mower. “My buddy and I don’t have anything to do, and we need the exercise.”
She looked at me doubtfully but stepped aside. I mowed forward toward a rose trellis, then wriggled the mower to one side and took a long swipe at the yard. After I’d made about ten passes around the bushes and stopped just short of the stone wall, Gary pushed me aside.
“Here,” he grumbled, “I’ll cut some too.”
I wiped my sleeve across my face and stepped back. The old woman was still watching, still suspicious.
“Are you from around here?” she asked.
“I live on Duff Road,” I replied. “I’m Skip Geer. My buddy’s name is Gary Staley. He lives on Colfax.”
“Do you know the Markhams?” she asked hopefully. “They live on Duff.”
I shook my head. “No, but the Barnharts are my neighbors.” I blew upward at my face. “This is hot work,” I added.
“My nephew usually cuts it,” she said. “But he’s away this month, and I can’t afford to pay anyone to do it.”
I shrugged. “We don’t expect to be paid.”
“Can I give you some lemonade?”
I nodded. “Thanks. That’d be good.”
When she came back outside with a tray, Gary was still cutting, but she motioned to him to come and join me for lemonade. While we drank it, she stood near her front door, like she was still on guard.
“I don’t own much,” she said. “And I’m not in good health. My nephew wants me to get an operation the doctor says I should have, but I won’t do it. Once you get to be my age and they put you into a hospital, you end up in a nursing home or something! They won’t get me to give up my home,” she insisted. “Edmond, my husband, and I came here seventy-two years ago. He’s gone now, but as long as I can, I’m holding on to my home!”
Boy! I thought, She must be ninety, atleast! I finished my lemonade. Gary was still huffing, so I went back to the mower. By the time we pulled all the weeds from around the bushes, the woman was sitting on her front steps. She seemed more relaxed.
“I’ll get a trash bag,” she called as she struggled to her feet.
“Let’s pull the tall grass away from the front of her wall, too,” I suggested.
Gary frowned, but gave me a hand. When we were finally done, the woman acted like she wanted to keep talking, so we drank some more lemonade.
“All these houses weren’t here then,” she said, almost to herself. “Our yard went clear out to the middle of the road. Then they came along and paved the street. That’s when we had the wall and sidewalk put in.”
Gary and I listened. Sometimes we smiled or nodded. Finally she slowed down, and I could see her eyes beginning to droop in the heat, so I stood. “Where does the lawn mower go?” I asked.
“It goes in a little shed in back,” she replied. “But I’ll take care of that.”
“That’s OK,” I said. “I don’t mind.”
Finally Gary and I stood on the sidewalk, ready to leave.
“Here, boys,” she said as she dug a pair of scissors out of the pocket of her dress. “You’ve helped to make my day, and I want to give you each a rose.”
Gary and I walked away holding our roses. I knew Mom would like mine for the middle of the table. At the corner we looked back and waved.
“I’m glad we came up the wrong alley,” Gary said. “But I told you she’d think we were going to rob her. Did you see those scissors? She was ready to fight us off.”
I chuckled. “Maybe. It’s gotta be hard to get old. But she isn’t giving up! She’s going to hang on to her house. Good for her! Besides, I think we did come up the right alley, after all—she said we made her day.”
“But cutting her grass won’t help her keep her house,” Gary argued.
“I know, but like she said, it helped her get through today. And who knows, maybe that’s all the help any of us needs.”