Thursday, June 5, 2008

Animal Magnetism

They're here again: the children of the neighbors across the street, the next door neighbors' dog. They are drawn to our house, the yard, the playroom, something. The children always want to play here; the dog, well, he just wants to come in and see what's what. Where does our dog sleep? What does it look like upstairs? Where do we keep our kitchen? What does it smell like? Who knows what goes through his mind?

Every neighborhood has a house like ours. When I was growing up, it was my house. The kid with the alcoholic father; the kids who lived with their step-mother; the kids whose mom lived alone, they always seemed to want to hang at our house. I knew it wasn't our cool toys that brought them. We had no playroom, an unfinished basement, and only seven channels on the 13" television. Boys were not allowed in my room, and girls were not allowed in my brother's. The yard was small, fenced and full of dog poop, and we didn't have "the cool parents" by any stretch of the imagination. My mom worked in the church, my dad was a cop, and just to tighten security measures, my uncle the narc lived next door in our two-family home, with my lovely, artist aunt, their Eagle Scout son and his brothers. I vividly remember my sweet 16 birthday party for two reasons: it was the first birthday party I'd ever had with friends instead of family, and nothing memorable/interesting/illegal/ immoral/unsanitary/embarrassing or noteworthy happened. And yes, it was a co-ed party.

So what was it about our home that called to the masses? Perhaps it was the security of a double family unit in one house. Maybe it was the lovable dogs, or the rowdy laughter than always seemed to emanate from our yard. By this I mean either the laughter of us climbing trees and chasing each other, or my extended family gathered for frequent barbecues to celebrate every birthday, anniversary, holiday and commemorative event that occurred. When I look back now, through rosy, nostalgic glasses, we were a very loving bunch. There were always relatives around: cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But I think what was most memorable were the cooking smells, since we were forever cooking something. My aunt's famous Italian gravy; burgers and steaks on the backyard grill; Armenian flatbread meat pies and Turkish coffee in our kitchen; something was always wafting from the windows, depending on which side of the family was visiting.

Yet I don't think that's what's drawing the crowd to my house. I don't cook much. The occasional meatloaf, cupcakes for school, that's pretty much my limit, unless one of the kids is having a playdate. Then I'll whip up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies, but it's not often and it's just for show.

No, I'd have to say it's the consistency: the light that's always on, someone always home to answer the door or the phone when help is needed, that brings them here. I'm always at the bus stop when all the kids come home. I'm always out walking the dog when the neighbors are out walking theirs. I'm a constant, an unwavering presence in these days of working parents and not knowing your neighbors. When I was growing up, we took comfort in the security that such a house offered. Maybe some things never change.

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