Where I Live
By Deb Kelt
I walk through my neighborhood every day at 6:45 a.m. I guess
you could say my neighborhood is my morning meditation. I always
take the same route—up South 3rd, around St. Elmo, down South
2nd and around to Englewood. The sun comes up and life in the small,
ranch-style homes begins to stir. Another day in our still diverse
and still blue-collar patch of Austin. Lots of pick-up trucks,
dogs, chain-link fences and converted garages. Bud Light seems
to be the drink of choice, judging by our recycling bins. Outdoor
shade is provided by those persistent hackberry trees; indoor cool
comes from AC window units.
These are the constants in my hood, but as I walk every morning,
I notice that nothing is ever the same. The night always produces
some magic, a little cosmic shift left behind while the sun went
away for a time. And if I walk with eyes wide open, I notice these
morning gifts. My neighborhood touches me with grace each day—a
daily blessing from 78745.
Sometimes my blessings come from the usual suspects. The Virgin
Mary has a spot in lots of front yards. I always love to pass her,
noticing her eyes looking down, her arms outstretched. In my neighborhood
we have painted Virgins of Guadalupe with her starry blue shroud,
terra cotta Virgins that nearly match the clay dirt, concrete Virgins
with tiny graceful hands. I love when the roses bloom near them—almost
everyone plants roses around the Virgin. I smile and think of Juan
Diego as I pass a serene Mary surrounded by almost shocking orange
I noticed three days ago that one of the Virgins now has a blue
plastic rosary around her neck. I look at the house and wonder
what has happened in this home. Maybe a baby has been born, or
perhaps some sadness has entered their lives. Was it left only
as a simple prayer? Either way, something is different. I smile
when I think of my neighbor walking outside to place the rosary,
quietly marking this change. I wonder how I mark the big and small
changes in my own life, how there never seems to be any time for
Other mystical visions come from the chihuahuas
on Englewood. Some days these dogs come hurling toward the fence
as I pass, anger
and venom dripping from their tiny chops. They’re almost
flying as they leap over that red Tonka truck left out all night.
Talk about mad—these four dogs are fuming! Their tiny toenails
scrape across the driveway and for just a second they seem to be
running in place, but soon the fence is right at their faces and
they let me have it. (I sure hope I don’t look this silly
when I get mad. But I think I do.)
Other days the gang of four doesn’t
even stir as I walk by. I see them eyeing the biggest of the group
(about the size of a
loaf of bread, minus 5 slices or so), getting their orders for
the morning. If she is calm, so are the rest. And my day begins
without a canine ambush. Some days barking at the fence just ain’t
worth it, I’ve learned.
On the corner of South 2nd and Philco
lives Meticulous Lawn Guy. At least that’s his name in my
head—and I mentally
call him this with the greatest of affection. Meticulous Lawn Guy
dedicates his morning meditation to the lawn, of course. He spreads
fertilizer, waters, sweeps up clippings from the street, or gently
blows them with his very quiet leaf blower. (It is only 7 a.m.
Meticulous Lawn Guy is quite a considerate neighbor.)
days are when he breaks out the scooter. Meticulous Lawn Guy has
constructed this little chair on wheels. It is only about
six inches high, hitting just to where the curb and the lawn meet.
MLG then sits in the scooter with a small pair of clippers and
he edges—by hand—his entire lawn. It must take
hours. My favorite part of the whole endeavor is the tiny, reflective
traffic sign he places behind the scooter—so oncoming traffic
will not sideswipe him. Some days MLG says hello, but most of the
time he is lost in meditation, like me. His fantastic yard reminds
me of the power of patience and persistence. And the scooter? A
morning reminder to let my inner-weirdo sing.
The last part of my
stroll takes me down to the corner of Orland and Englewood, which
is where I live. Across the street from us
are the Mexican painters. I think about the Mexican painters a
lot. I know them all—their faces, their children, their
cars, even the songs they sing at night when they break out the
accordions and cerveza.
But we never say hello. Ever. I don’t
know why. Maybe it’s
because of language, although my Spanish is just fine. Maybe it’s
because I’m a woman in shorts and they are 10 guys in work
clothes—they don’t want to freak me out, I don’t
want to seem overly friendly. Maybe it’s just too early.
Or perhaps they’ve gotten grief from other neighbors who
are not happy with the bulldozer that sat in the yard for a year,
with the seven or eight trucks they have parked on the street,
with the dirt they keep instead of a lawn.
I don’t know why
we don’t talk, but when I pass their house, my walk
takes on a certain sadness. I vow to myself to say “hola” the following
morning, to get to know these people who are my closest neighbors, to find out
about their lives, their stories, maybe even a little about their hopes and dreams.
At the very least, I’d like to see that accordion close up.
I did wave
once as I walked by. One of the men—dressed in a white t-shirt
and painter pants—sort of nodded back in reply. I guess it’s a start.
Maybe someday we’ll move to “Buenos Dias.” I’ll keep
waving and walking and thinking about a morning miracle. The dawn always holds
Like today. I came home to find a bird’s nest in my mailbox.
Small twigs and grass carefully constructed, trying to create a tiny little
home. Just as
we all are, where I live.
Gina Schrader’s full story
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Read Aletha Irby’s full story
Read Monica Beckford’s full story
Read Sofia Harber Bowden’s full
Read John Salazar’s full story
Read Writing Austin’s Lives introduction