I knocked on my neighbor’s back door. A grown-up answered.
“Your garden looked great in the helicopter footage,” I said. “You could see the lettuces.”
“Thanks” he grinned, “I’m just glad that the police dog didn’t chase the chickens.”
Now how’s that for a conversation you don’t get to have everyday? Welcome to the paradoxes of our urban/rural life.
To tell the story I have to tell the back story. The day before the helicopters hovered a friend was visiting. We were sitting in the yard and the kids were running wild–chasing each other, climbing trees, and throwing their weight on the tree swing. They carried all five chickens into the playhouse and pretended that the poor beloved birds were their children. I brought out some bread with peanut butter and cups of milk. “Snacktime!” I called and they all rushed toward the picnic table, dappled with sunlight under the pear tree. My friend looked at the kids, looked at the yard, looked at the chickens and said, with all sincerity, “Your kids are having a great childhood.”
What would she have said the next day?
The next day we were again out in the yard, but the younger housemate-boy was having a tough time. I went inside to try and comfort him. Three kids outside, one crying on the couch. I tried sympathy, I tried humor and finally book-reading seemed to help. The whole time, in the back of my mind, I registered that a lot of police cars had driven by the house. This was not usually a cause for alarm as cops sometimes use our road when the main arteries are crowded. But there were a lot of sirens, and so I asked a friend (a different friend from the day before) if she could look out the window. I had finally gotten the little boy to calm down, and I wasn’t about to stop reading stories!
“We need to get the kids inside right now,” she said in a calm but definitive tone. Not even knowing why, I ran for the door, pulled three protesting children off swings and out of the playhouse, and brought everyone back inside. I still had no idea what was going on. You can’t see the street from the backyard, and I couldn’t even look out the window because I had four screaming preschoolers to deal with. “Let’s all go and play in the boys’ room” I announced loudly, as chipper as I could manage. I made eye contact with my friend, but we were both mute, not wanting to upset the kids.
After we herded everyone upstairs and the kids were engrossed with the toys, I excused myself and went back downstairs to look out the window. There were a lot of police cars, and the policemen were looking under our parked cars. The neighbors were all out, gawking, as if a parade was about to come by. There were news trucks, helicopters, reporters… maybe they were the parade. My husband had just come home and I interrogated him. There had been a police chase, I learned, and two men had stopped their SUV just in front of our neighbor’s house and got out to run. One hid in a car and was discovered almost immediately. One ran through the backyard two houses down and they had caught him too. But before they caught him he hid his gun somewhere, and now the police were looking for it.
I looked out the back window just in time to see a policeman with a dog checking out our chicken coop. I laughed outloud. My husband looked surprised. “Oh honey, ” I explained, “I was laughing at myself because my first thought was, ‘How embarrassing. I didn’t clean out the coop today.'”
And then I went out to chat with some neighbors. There wasn’t much left to gawk at, but we shared stories and watched each other (not me) be interviewed by news reporters. It’s always funny to me how these crazy events seem to bring us closer together as neighbors. We share the bond of our common experiences, just living our lives side-by-side and trying to give our kids great childhoods. Just growing the lettuce that you could see from the sky.