Monday, February 16, 2015
The People Across The Street
When I was a child growing up we moved a lot. The first seven years of my life I think we moved almost every year. We lived on almost every street in my little home town of Havre de Grace. Finally at the age of eight when I was in the third grade my parents bought a house. It was a new little rancher just recently built a half a block from the beautiful Susquehanna River. It sounds like an ideal location and today the neighborhood is very attractive. In 1960 it was quite different. Diagonally across the street was a large scrap metal junk yard. Directly behind our back yard was the office and another part of the scrap metal junk yard. And directly across the street were "the neighbors".
In a tiny two story brown shingle house lived Joe and Pearl. Joe was a World War I veteran and Pearl was his common law wife. Living with them in this tiny four room house was their nephew Willie. Joe and Pearl were in their late forties or early fifties. Their nephew Willie was probably in his mid to late thirties. Joe was still fighting World War I in his mind. He would wear his army uniform on Saturday nights and go to the dance at the VFW where he would sit in the back on the hall on a metal chair and listen to the music. He seemed a little strange but harmless to anyone who saw him there. Living across the street from him we saw a different side of Joe. On Sundays he would bring out his four wooden flag poles and fly his American flags in front of his house. In his uniform he would parade back and forth in front of the flags and yell across the street to us about the war, "The Big One" as he called it. We heard all about the Kaiser, all about Germany, and all about how lazy and unappreciative we were of his war effort. He yelled at the cars driving by, he yelled at anyone walking down to the river, and he yelled at the dogs running by his house. He carried his rifle on his shoulder as he marched across the yard every Sunday.
Pearl was his common law wife. She seemed more friendly than Joe but we knew she had to be a little off as she lived with Joe. After midnight in the dark she would leave their house and walk all over town digging through trash cans for treasures. I think she furnished their house with stuff she found in the trash. She also wanted to share things she found with the neighbors. She found a light for a bicycle one evening and gave it to me the next day for my bicycle. I brought it into our house and showed my mother. My mother was not thrilled with the idea but told me to be polite and thank Miss Pearl later. I tried to turn on the light and it did not work. My mother told me it probably needed a new battery. She opened up the light and found it was full of cockroaches. She screamed and closed it up with a snap. She ran to the back yard and threw it over the metal fence into the sheet metal junk yard behind our house.
A few days later Pearl saw me on my bicycle and noticed that the light was not attached to the handle bars. She called me over and asked me where was the light. I was scared and did not know what to say so I told her I was waiting for my Dad to attach it for me. Pearl waited patiently for a few days and then confronted my mother. She stood in her yard and yelled across the street to my mother. "Where is the bicycle light? I know you think your too good to take a gift from me. GIVE IT BACK. I will give it to Johnny down the street. I WANT IT BACK." Well my mother could not give it back because it was over in the junk yard some place. Johnny down the street was my best friend. I had told him the story about the light and we laughed about it as two kids would do. Pearl called him over to her yard one day and told him I had a bicycle light and he needed to go get it from me. John told me what she had said and we both laughed about the cockroach light and how he didn't want it either.
Willie was Pearl and Joe's nephew. He was a grown man and he could not talk. I never knew what his mental problem was but I would watch him and kept my distance. He scared me more than Joe or Pearl. He would stand in their yard and look across the street and just do a deep bizarre laugh. "Huh huh" That was all he every said, just that deep throated huh huh laugh. When Pearl would get angry at us, like she did over the bicycle light, she would sit inside her front window and we could hear her talking to Willie. We could never hear what she was saying but we could hear her voice. Then Willie would pick up little rocks and pebbles from the side of the road and bring them over to throw in our yard.
There was a small wood shed in the back of Joe and Pearl's back yard. Joe would chop wood for their furnace and stack it up against the shed. We would see Joe or Pearl go out to the shed from time to time but we never gave it much thought. Then one afternoon we saw flashing light and heard a siren. There was an ambulance over at Joe and Pearl's house. We thought maybe one of them was ill or had a stroke. The ambulance driver took the stretcher out of the back of the ambulance and carried it to the wood shed in the back yard. Our curiosity was peaked as we watched with our other neighbors and saw a very old man being carried on the stretcher out of the shed and to the ambulance. The old man appeared to be dead. No one had any idea that there was an old man living in that shed. We never found out who he was and never saw him return.
We never quite looked at Pearl, Joe, or Willie the same way again. We moved a couple of years later. I remained best friends with John from up the street. Today there is a beautiful large condo on the lot where Joe and Pearl's house sat. I doubt anyone living there has any idea about the man who died in the shed that day or any of the other strange things that went happened on that lot.