In our old apartment building in New York, we had an elevator man. Sometimes it was George, but usually it was Eddie. Eddie would welcome us into the elevator as if it were his home, which it was in a way, then he’d close the elevator doors and the heavy metal gate, and up we’d go. One time when it was just the two of us in the elevator, Eddie asked me if I’d like to do the driving. Those were his words, “do the driving.” Of course I would! He demonstrated how to push the handle in one direction to power up, and in the other direction to slow down and stop. He assured me there was no way I could rocket us out into the air above Manhattan if I was too heavy on the handle, but I could easily zip past 3 and land halfway to 4 without the proper finesse.
Incredibly, I don’t remember doing the driving that day, and that lapse of memory could only be because it never happened. Probably Mrs. Sulzberger on 5 rang for the elevator at that moment, or old comma-shaped Mr. Fayles on 9. My guess is that Eddie promised me a driving lesson for another day, and dropped me off on 3 where I belonged.
This same Eddie was the stuff of legends. Many an apocryphal tale was told about his daring antics, including the time my mother came home and found him at our piano, playing the Moonlight Sonata. George must have been on the elevator that afternoon, because Eddie surely wasn’t. And who would have guessed? The Moonlight Sonata! In fact, the strangest part of that story for me was not that Eddie was sitting at the piano in our apartment, but that he was playing Beethoven.
Living with doormen and elevator men was the urban equivalent of having a watchdog, or a good neighbor who would look out for us and keep secrets for us as we got older and our friends, savory and unsavory alike, stayed over and snuck out early in the morning before our parents woke up. George, Boris, Eddie, they gave us advice. Eddie’s was often imperfect, but otherwise the concern of these men who were not kin, who could see us without the clouded lenses of blood relatives, and who were in many cases more available than our parents, especially our fathers—this was an essential part of learning to trust.
New York was not a city known for its benevolence, though after 9/11 its heart was briefly on display. The New York I grew up in was tough, loud, combative. And for all its advertised allure, the Upper East Side had an underbelly as rough and dirty as any neighborhood. You could hear it when the bars closed and the tony clientele spilled onto the streets, shouting threats and obscenities. You could see it very early in the morning, before the doormen took to the sidewalks with their hoses and long-handled scrub brushes. You could watch the litter of fast-food containers tumbling down the avenues, or the condoms and lost gloves choking the gutters. When I was ten or twelve, walking home from school in broad daylight, a kid no bigger than a seven-year-old came out of a doorway and held a knife to my gut. I just looked at him and said, “What?” and he withdrew because really there was no answer to my question.
Growing up with a good neighbor at the front door, a champion and a watchdog, a doorman, gave me a foothold in the world I do not take for granted. Through the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Russia’s warheads were aimed at New York; through the protests, riots, assassinations and injustices of the ‘60s, something succeeded in creating a feeling of safety for me, a trust in who I was and how I would navigate the challenges presented by the decade in which I was coming of age. The world appeared more than ever a house of cards, a collapsing illusion, but something beyond the money in my pocket, my education and my whiteness, gave me the self-assurance to say to that kid on the street: What? It wasn’t just George and Boris and Eddie, but their alert and steady presence was instructive and essential at a time when air raid sirens sent us underground, when shop windows shattered, when brothers lost the lottery, went off to war and never returned. The funereal wailing of a decade did not diminish us. We had good neighbors. We had doormen.
Here in Flagstaff, my house has three bedrooms lined up one-two-three like roomettes on a train. When I moved in a year ago, I chose the front bedroom, the one facing the street, though I wasn’t sure why. It has two windows, and I like windows. Was that the reason? Not quite. It was only recently I realized I wanted to sleep at the front of the house in order to guard the house. I wanted to join the ranks of that noble profession. I wanted to be my own doorman.
Katie Bell Burton discovers trees. My sister-in-law, Grace, writes about the look on her grandmother’s face. My uncle Shep finds the beauty in a mechanical part (I have a collection of old discarded faucets for the same reason). Lucy Watson can’t resist the undeniable charms of her good friend Stanley. And Katherine Elswick gives us turquoise, tulips, and eggs. Here are their words and photos. Take a look.
Katie Bell Burton
Here’s to the Trees
When I was around 11 years old, I started wearing glasses. I didn’t realize I couldn’t see clearly until I could, and what I noticed the most was the trees. No longer a green blur, the multitude of leaves, the definition of each individual collectively formed a green silhouette against the blue sky. These trees lived on the street that I walked everyday, but I was seeing them clearly for the first time. It felt like love, so simple and light, surprising and new.
I find comfort in the cyclical nature of trees. Even when they are dormant, they provide a reminder of what’s to come. The cycle is always in motion. The brutal winter will give way to the buds of spring. The flowers of spring and summer will always come as a surprise. The falling leaves will bring reprieve from the hot summer sun.
Michigan maples are color-changing champions. One leaf can turn from a rich green to lime, lemon, and orange, dropping a rainbow sorbet of color worth picking up and saving. When I moved away from Michigan, my mom would send me a vibrant leaf in the mail to remind me of home.
I moved to Flagstaff and the first thing I noticed was the amazing smell. Deep inhalations brought a smile to my face and a sense of renewed energy. A ponderosa pine invited me to approach it, so I bumped my nose against the bark. I could almost taste the sweet smell of butterscotch. And the aspen trees were a captive audience, leaves clapping as I hiked through their tunnels.
The trees of North Carolina that surround me now are giants that dance in the swirling wind. They are surprisingly delicate and will spontaneously snap their branches or uproot, pulling an 80-foot tree right out of the ground. I’m surprised at how often a tree falls in the forest around our home. When the leaves fall, leaving these giants naked you can see what has been hiding behind them all year.
The trees continue to teach me about love, nurturing and community. They are social beings and communicate their needs to each other, which inspires me to be a better wife. Healthy trees will selflessly send nutrients to those in need. This reminds me to take good care of myself and my daughters. As a tree begins to die, it will send any remaining carbon to its loved ones in the forest, which makes me think of my ancestors and the foundation they built for me. Trees give me hope that humans can love each other so selflessly, and that we might be reminded to love them back for all they give to us.
Grace Osora Erhart
This is beauty for me.
I took a peek at my iPhone photos looking for a picture of my dogs and the spring green, and came across this photo I found while cleaning out my mother’s house. I believe it is a picture of my grandmother, my father’s mother, on her first communion, somewhere around 1915.
Suddenly just now I fell in love...I love her!
I looked into her eyes via the magic of the iPhone and was able to really get a good look at her face. Nellie was her name. I only knew her as a sad, obese woman, and with so many cousins I never even had a real conversation with her that I can recall. But here I just love her so much, she looks so hopeful and happy and I feel my heart open up to her. It’s crazy and unexpected and I didn’t even feel that way when I found the original photograph a few days ago.
So thank you for this chance to discover something I already had, someone I thought I already knew, but I suspect I knew very little.
I love your beauty challenge. I’m long on beautiful experiences, short on pictures at the moment. But here’s one that might work in your blog space, with a little haiku that it inspired.
The backstory is this gorgeous folding propeller arrived from Denmark the other day on its way to Amazing Grace (in the boatyard near your Manset house). I was so excited and wowed by its functional beauty that I plopped it on the granite kitchen counter for Linnette to behold. She was in the middle of prepping something with garlic. Here’s the little ditty that evolved.
“What’s for Suppa?”
The stove counter holds
Folding prop, garlic –
Sauteed bronze beauty!
Here is my goofy, adorable lab.
He sits in the bay window for hours looking at everyone walking by, and when we walk him, people ask, “Is this the dog(gie) in the window?”
He sometimes has his stuffed animal with him but he is mostly a solo act.
His name is Stanley. He is 5½ years old. He is an English Labrador Retriever. He has never retrieved a ball and refuses to go in the water.
I enjoy your blog so much and thank you for inviting me in.
“Aging is part of the song if life is long.” A friend told me that and I love the line.
I like natural objects that are lovely in themselves but are also “teaching” symbols for me.
This Sleeping Beauty mine turquoise has a cloud in its sky so it says Sky of Mind to me...passing cloud selves, empty sky. Also...sleeping beauties must WAKE UP. And it is in a little stone boat...the dogma one you let go of when you “reach the other shore.”
This deep feeling color of twolips...this deer shadow...this wood shine....
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