Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The "Free" sold in Providence

As I mentioned before (here) a demographic shift is occurring in my neighborhood. The Italians and Irish residents who inaugurated the modest bungalows and capes that dot our neighborhood are "passing on," their "original" houses are then put up for sale (by their children who left the city for the surrounding suburbs), and often they are bought by working-class and professional Latin American and African families. Many, like us, are first time home-owners. This is a friendly neighborhood where neighbors always greet each other and might even stop for a few minutes for friendly chit chat on the sidewalk. And yet even in this friendly atmosphere, some neighbors manage to be hermits. This was the case with one of our neighbors across the street who looked to be in her early 80s. I spend a lot time gardening and observing my plants, and as a result I also see neighborhood comings and goings. In this last regard, things are kind of boring given that in this neighborhood, which I suppose is representative of "mainstream" neighborhoods across the U.S., people most often lead their lives inside their houses rather than outside. There are many reasons for this, certainly, one of them is that leading one's life inside the home (as opposed to outside on the stoop, for instance) is a "middle-class value." Interestingly, the reason I spend so much of my time outside is because of gardening, which is often understood as a leisure-class activity, specially so by working-class standards. Interesting as well, is that for people, such as the sweet elderly couple who live  directly across the street, who came of age during mid-century, keeping their lawn immaculate and delegating its care to the landscaper who comes every other week is the respectable and appropriate thing to do. When they first saw that I had replaced the lawn with a garden, they told me that they'd hope that I manage to keep my garden "under control" and were surprised to know that I don't "mind touching dirt."

But let me not get sidetracked. My point is that our hermetic neighbor, who never waived and who appeared to never even look in any direction, whose blinds were always drawn and whose adult children, when they visited, also behaved in the exact same way, passed away. Her house was, of course, in immaculate condition. Her children began, from what I could see, to empty the house. They gave themselves to this task with great organization, and throughout the process, which took them about two-months worth of weekend trips, they never put out any garbage or pieces of furniture out in the front. It was as if everything that our elderly neighbor owned was of value and/or had a destination in the house of one of her family members. I watched in awe as they meticulously emptied the house and then they put it on the market. It sold after the very first open-house. The point is that, one day after said open house, I saw the neighbor's daughter (who to my estimation was the chief operation's officer in matters related to emptying the house), removing some remaining items, and to my great surprise she left what looked liked a night stand out in the front yard free for the taking. It seemed uncharacteristic. When they left, I braved my way over to their yard to take a look at the table, and what I discovered was that it was not a table at all. It was a far more interesting piece, it was a sewing machine! And to my even greater surprise, it seemed to have all of the items that originally came with the machine (even the original pamphlet). I wanted to take it home. But I am a minimalist or trying to become one in any case, and so instead I grabbed my camera and photographed it. Within minutes of my photographic foray, a man in a van drove by, stopped and assessed the piece and swiftly picked it up. (Check out this short video to see "The Free" it in action).