I used to work with a nurse who had once been an Elkhart police officer.
I can’t remember all the details of our conversation, but I walk to work sometimes, and I suppose he was asking me about that. I told him I live on Brady Street.
“You live in the hole?” he asked in horror.
Brady Street is a short one-way that loops around from Jackson Place to 5th Street, so it’s an obscure little street with about 11 houses. But he knew it by name, and by nickname.
I know it well, too, the cracks in the cement sidewalk, the chain link around the park. I know the trash cans and the trash pickup schedule and the mysterious way my trashcan often comes back onto my porch after I leave it out for pickup. I know the back alley, and the little paths that foot traffic seek out, connecting Brady Street with the alley. In fact, one of the foot paths is the cement sidewalk under my bedroom window. One night I was startled by harsh voices and running feet, the sounds of one person pursuing another right beneath my window. I leaped to the window, but they were too quick, and by the time I got around to the window that looks out on to Brady Street, I could see nothing. I stood for a moment, staring, hoping.
In the spring, the ugly brown trees outdo themselves, and the street is awash with white and pink. In the summer, it’s a happy green with sunlight falling late into the evening. In the fall there are bright red leaves drifting. In early winter, the tree in front of my house shows off red berries, which are splendid with a fresh snow. Right now they’re kind of just ugly brown trees, but when I walked to work the other morning through the cold, the raw sky and raw cement and raw brown was its own kind of beautiful.
A few nights ago, I took some grapefruit to my neighbors, fresh from Arizona through friends from church. I chatted with my neighbor for awhile. She’s about my age, and we don’t see each other much, especially in the winter. After a few minutes her father came to the door and joined us.
English isn’t his first language so it takes him awhile to get the words out, although his English certainly surpasses my Spanish. I gathered he was talking about trash and I was hoping he wasn’t going to complain that I often don’t get my trashcan retrieved in a timely fashion. Finally, his daughter summarized for me.
“He’s saying that sometimes he puts your trashcan back for you and he hopes you’re not upset by that,” she explained.
I walked away after a few minutes, down his slightly skewed cement steps and up my own wooden ones, past my trash can, neatly in its place. I thought of the wintery days when I have come home from work late, almost too tired to fall into bed, and found my trash can in its place.
Maybe someday the reputation of this corner of Elkhart will change with the police department. But in the meantime, on that sunny, grapefruit-colored afternoon a few days ago, I felt convinced that Brady Street is the best neighborhood in northern Indiana.