When Joe and I bought water service that reflects the fact that we live in the 21st century, the attempt to join our new plumbing to the city plumbing didn’t go well. The water to a few of our neighbours was shut off for a day and the street outside was full of huge emergency trucks shining bright lights and working into the night. When they were done, they’d made a hole in the sidewalk and patched it with asphalt. Over the course of the winter that patch had heaved and part of it quit, creating a crazy sinkhole out front.
Joe and I called the city right away and put an orange safety cone on it so that nobody would get hurt. I started to worry that day. I admit, that me being me, I mostly worried about water running into the (small) sinkhole and the washing away the ground underneath the rest of the sidewalk. (I admit also, that me being me, I worried that a really big rain might wash out the support for our house. I think it’s impossible, but I’m a creative person and that doesn’t always help me.) I also started to worry about the sidewalk itself.
Years and years ago, when the girls were little, the city put new sidewalk out front. I can’t remember where Amanda was, but Megan and Sam got permission from Joe (who’s a complete renegade) to write in the wet cement. (I was afraid they would get in trouble. Is that graffiti? Is it against the law? I didn’t know.) They went outside and squatted on the edge of the step with sticks, and they each wrote something. Sam put her name and a star (we had a talk after that about the wisdom of vandalizing something with one’s own name.)
Megan, little, idealistic and being raised by hopelessly optimistic hippies, wrote "You are beautiful" because she thought that would make everyone in the family feel good, as they stepped onto the sidewalk to begin their days.
Despite initially being opposed (although the police never said anything about the crime) it turns out that I love those little bits of urban art. Now, way more than a decade later, I love to see those little messages when I leave the house, and I smile to myself when I see guests to our home spot them as they come and go. They’ve become important to me, like the marks on the doorframe that I paint around semi-annually – the ones showing the girl’s heights compared to mine. When the sinkhole happened, I knew that they were going to replace part of the sidewalk, but I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know how much. I hoped the sidewalk could be saved, because I liked it.
Two mornings ago, I woke up because there was a ridiculous racket outside. Jackhammering, I realized, and I chalked it up to the ongoing renovation next door and rolled over. Three minutes later I was staggering out of bed, pulling clothes on as I went – running my fingers through my hair and grabbing the camera. Two minutes after that, I was the crazy lady bursting onto the porch, hair wild, braless in yoga pants and an old tee-shirt with soup on it, screaming "STOP!"
The guy in the little jackhammer cart thingie stopped, a look on his face of pure astonishment. He can’t have heard me, what with the ear protection and the jackhammering, but he sure saw me, and he stopped right there. I pointed at the square of sidewalk right there in front of the step. It wasn’t broken up yet, but I could tell it would be. He’d started on an area that made it clear it was going to go. "I… need to take some pictures." I said, and then, for reasons that I don’t understand at all, because I am a tough person, and I was totally reconciled to the eventual loss of the sidewalk, and also I don’t cry in public if I can possibly help it – some horrible hitch of a sob came out of me, and I started to cry while I got the broom, and swept the leaves off of the words.
Do you have any idea how many memento’s I have of my children’s youth? I have pictures, and baby clothes, and knitted things. I have books, and I have art, and I have toilet paper rolls covered in macaroni and spray painted gold that I can hang on my Christmas tree. I have old report cards, letters, and badges. I have it all, and I was really in no danger of forgetting anyway, and I am not the sort of mother who really regrets that those years are over anyway. I loved it when they were little, I really did. I was good at it and I worked hard at it, and those were wonderful, wonderful years (if somewhat sleep-deprived, loud and sticky.) It was fulfilling and important work, taking care of my girls, but I am proud and happy that they are mostly grown now, and I value this time as much as that.
I am never going to be the sort of mum who weeps in her empty nest. I’ve been waiting for it to empty out for a while, and with all of that together, I couldn’t believe that there I was, crying on the porch, taking pictures of words in the cement, and considering how I could strike a bargain to keep it.
The guy got out of the little jackhammer cart, and he came over to the step. He looked down where I was sweeping. I pointed. He was a young guy. If he has kids they must be very little, and he looked down to the ground and saw what was there. After a minute, he looked away, and went back to the equipment, and waited patiently, and he said nothing while I took some pictures. When I was done, I said thank you to him, and I turned to go into the house. "Sorry lady" he said. I smiled. It had nothing to do with him.
I have a new sidewalk now. I sat in the house and I listened to him smash it up, and then a truck came, and took away all the pieces, and later in the afternoon they poured new concrete, and now the sinkhole is gone and nobody can get hurt and the house won’t fall down. It’s all good. My kids are grown up, and I like who they are, and I am glad that the time they were little is over, and I have a lot to remember that time by.
I know that the world is the sort of place where you can’t get attached to a sidewalk you don’t own, and I know too that nothing is really different today, now that our old sidewalk is gone, there’s no risk that I’ll forget that day that two of them squatted on the step, sticks in their hands, writing in wet concrete, wondering if they were breaking the law while I fretted and Joe told them to dare. I won’t forget all the times I shovelled that sidewalk and saw the words there, and really, I’m pretty sure I’ll think of them every time I see the new sidewalk anyway. I won’t forget, and it doesn’t really, really matter, and I have no idea then, why I was that crazy lady on the porch, sweeping leaves away from words, and crying on old concrete.