Trips to the mailbox aren’t much fun for me these days. The best I can expect is a rare day when I receive no mail at all rather the usual bills and solicitations. Recently, I received a yellow slip of paper filled out by my postman telling me his attempt to deliver a certified letter requiring my signature was unsuccessful and directing me to the post office to retrieve it.
Now, I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more skeptical I become when it comes to surprises, so I really wasn’t expecting great news that, perhaps, a prince will was found and I was mentioned. To the aging and aged, anything that comes unexpectedly is to be eyed warily.
Upon picking it up and seeing the city logo on the envelope, I shifted uneasily. After all, when was the last time anyone with enough miles on his or her odometer to see a tax refund only as a very distant memory has received good news from the government?
Sure enough, suspicions were confirmed upon opening when I read the letter from the engineer’s office, telling me that a sidewalk inspector had determined several of my squares that showed some cracks were deemed “nuisances” and that it would be my responsibility to replace them, at an estimated cost of around $1,200.
My options were that I get the work done, perhaps at a bit better price, or the city would contract to do it for me and bill me.
Later as I looked at the ‘walk, I surely didn’t agree with the inspector’s assessment. You see when it comes to my property and house, I’ve long espoused the philosophy that as long as I perform maintenance on larger issues and tidy up on a regular basis, I have zero problems with some cracks on a sidewalk outside in much the same way as inside, a scar or two on a wall or a scratch on a wooden table surely doesn’t send me scurrying for a bucket of Dutch Boy or bottle of Old English scratch cover.
I tend to see houses a lot like people, as in they take on character with age as imperfections manifest themselves. I’m certainly wise enough to the dirty ways of the world ever to expect perfection.
However, a city mandate left me little option other than grousing about it, especially when on my frequent walks, I saw so much sidewalk that appeared to me to be in far worse shape than mine, and also thinking of the myriad more enjoyable ways to spend the money.
A few days later while working in Columbus, I found a Wi-Fi-providing McDonald’s to do some iPad software work. It was then I received a call from the engineer’s office telling me that the appeal I made had been turned down after their second look, certainly no surprise there.
Finally in acceptance mode, in the midst of my final grumblings, I then had an epiphany, one that at my age shouldn’t have been necessary. In a nearby booth sat a young lady, one appearing to be in her mid-to-late-30s, about the same age as my Gen X daughters, Shannon and Katie. The difference was, however, that while my grownup babies are healthy, this young lady wore a tightly wrapped scarf around a head I could tell was bare.
Through conversation snippets I couldn’t help overhearing, I knew that the older couple were Mom and Dad. I heard a reference to the James Cancer Center, where they’d just been for an appointment. Dad spoke optimistically that he thought his daughter’s color looked better Then the conversation between bites turned to shared memories. Dad spoke of a family camping trip from long ago, that one to Grand Lake in Celina, the time the winch broke on the boat trailer, and all three laughed.
Mom spoke of the only time she ever remembered winning at spades on one memorable family game night. And, the young woman spoke of that slumber party when she was in junior high when her friend Beth spilled that bottle of nail polish remover on the downstairs bar.
In the face of their shared current grave adversity, they laughed as they spoke of their memories between bites of french fries, before sliding out of the booth to continue a journey that they prayed would end with a miracle. And, my, how ashamed I felt grousing about some concrete that I needed to have fixed.
Watching their car pull out of the lot, I, with red-rimmed eyes, said a prayer for all those who face such catastrophic sinkholes, those ones so very much more serious than my cement-related pothole.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.