They drove past twice, each time, slowing the car and looking up at my window. I stepped back so they wouldn’t see me looking back. How queer is it that I would see them at the exact moment they stopped in front of my house, both times? Do I have nothing else to do but watch for observers?
The third time, they pulled their car to a stop and parked. First the driver and then his two passengers, a man and a woman, all three in their fifties, pudgy and tucked in, belts that matched as if they had planned their touring clothes ahead of time. They stood on the sidewalk and looked, first at the porch, and then up again at my window, then the roofline. If they had had clipboards, I’d have thought they were tax assessors from the city.
Their looking at my house so intently irked me. It’s impolite to stare, hadn’t their mother taught them that? And they were beginning to act familiar, taking liberties, not respecting the boundaries of my house by looking at it so intently, inspecting. Who were they to inspect my house?
“Our father grew up here,” the driver explained after I went outside to ask them, somewhat curtly, if I could help them. “Can I help you?” I asked as if they were shoppers wandering up and down the aisles of my father’s Ben Franklin Store.
They recounted to me all the times their father had driven past the house to show it to them and how they themselves had had to drive up and down the streets in the neighborhood until they finally found what they were looking for – a gray house that was now painted light green. They reminded me that they’d come by fifteen years before and shown me a photo of our living room where two sofas faced each other perpendicular to the brick fireplace. The gas lamps were visible in the photo taken a few years after the house was built in 1913.
I remembered at the time of their first visit that I’d wished I’d gotten their names and found a way to have a copy of the photo made. And here they were again. I could ask.
The driver asked me if the house was for sale. I said no. If it had been, I wouldn’t have told them. Something in me didn’t want to give a whisper that my relationship with the house was in any way shaky or iffy. No, my house isn’t available, not available, not for sale, no.
I let them drive off again without getting their names or inquiring about the photograph. They were nice enough, very polite. They just had a claiming feel to them that made me want to erect a stone wall in my front yard and install a gate with a giant lock to protect my house from reclamation by someone with older ties than mine.
So ungenerous of me. I had so often done the same thing, driven past my grandmother’s house in Hastings, Michigan, still incredulous forty years later that someone else owned her house, someone else sat everyday in the dining room where I had eaten Thanksgiving dinner, and might be wondering why the car out front slowed down and the woman in the passenger seat rolled down her window and looked up at the window with such yearning it could be felt in the house like a cloud let in by mistake.
We never forget what’s ours no matter who owns it.