April 2019 / Essay / Isabel Dickey

The First 9

IMG_4501Written and Illustrated by Isabel Dickey

For nine years I lived in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania, in a tiny little cul de sac tucked into the space between Whitemarsh Elementary and the intersection at Joshua and Flourtown Roads.

It was shaped like an oval, all smushed in on the right side. The smushed side was my road, Redwood Road. The top was Susan’s Way, and the curved left side was Tywnwood Road. I lived at 4149 Redwood Road. It was the second house on the street. Redwood Road was clearly the best — because that’s where I lived. Tywnwood was pretentious; it sounded like it was trying too hard. Susan’s Way didn’t fit with the other two roads; there were only four houses on it, and was only good for one thing — racing down it’s gigantic hill.

All the way toward the beginning of Tywnwood was Mrs. Graham. Her address was 4149 — just like me. We got a lot of her mail. I always brought it over so I could steal crabapples from her backyard — ammunition for the crabapple fight that was scheduled every night, April through September. Think hide and seek, but with rock hard, little fruits flying out of the darkness and into your head. Aside from thievery, I loved to visit her three fluffy collies. Charlie was the best because he looked the most like a stuffed animal I had. I used to beg her to let me walk them around the neighborhood. It should have taken 5 minutes to walk all the way around the cul de sac, but it took me about 45 minutes because I always took them to the playground, and tried to get them to go on the slides with me.

Next to me, the third house on the right side of Redwood, was the one young couple on the block. They had a huge greyhound named Cody. They told me they had saved it from people who raced dogs. I asked them how they trained the dogs to run in races. The day that my cat, who could fit in a men’s size twelve dress shoe, attacked Cody I figured it out. That evil little thing made Cody run for its life one more time.

Susan’s Way had four big pine trees and four houses. I only knew Cara and her family. Cara’s address said Tywnwood Road, which always annoyed me because her entire house faced Susan’s Way. Cara’s dad landscaped the house obsessively and always told us that the apple trees were not for climbing. We were warned, every time, that we had best not get into those trees. We immediately went out to climb them and throw apples at each other. When I drove by three years ago, the yard wasn’t pretty anymore.

My friend Warren lived on Tywnwood too. He had a carport with a dartboard and two fancy Lincoln cars. They used to pull the Lincolns down the driveway and host all the block parties in the carport. They were that flashy. His mom worked in a bank and his dad was a science teacher at the high school. A typical township guy; lots of money for no apparent reason, good corporate jobs in the city, party throwers, a classic case of “keeping up with the Jones’s.” Typical that they lived on Twynwood. When I looked in their carport recently, I saw they didn’t have Lincolns anymore.

Across the street from me, Steven lived with his parents. Steven was in high school when I was seven. Steven’s dad always went everywhere with their black dog — always running out of the red ranch house and into the truck together. One day I noticed that the black dog didn’t go on errands anymore, and how I hadn’t seen his sniffing around the yard in a while. Eventually Steven stopped being friendly. I wondered if it was because he was in high school and didn’t have time for a little kid, or if it was because of the black dog.

Eventually you got to the old lady with the cool grass at the end of the street. It was like a memory foam mattress. I went there everyday and played on her lawn, and it took a few months before she even came out and asked what I was doing. She seemed to be happy that I was enjoying it. She would come out onto her patio and wave when she saw me, but she never stayed outside and talked to me for longer than “hello!” My parents told me she was out before sunrise every morning clipping it with scissors. It seemed strange to me that someone so involved with the condition of her grass would let a little kid just roll around on it. Before we moved, her grass got really brittle and brown. When I came back to visit a year later, new people were living in her house.

John lived in the last house on Tywnwood Road. He loved to practice his golf; every day he would hit long drives into the field at the elementary school. I used to collect all his golf balls from the field on my way home from school, and pile them in his side yard.  A few months before I moved John’s house was for sale and all of the golf balls stayed piled up where I had left them.

My favorite neighbor of all was Marion. She had the very first house on Redwood — the very first house in the cul de sac. She had wild, gray, frizzy hair and wore a yellow jacket. Her yard was a mess and she rubber banded her bag of pretzels shut instead of clipping them. Her house was a mess too, but it wasn’t dirty. It was lived in, cozy. We used to hang out and eat cereal sometimes. Marion was an avid Corn Pops eater; I wasn’t really sold on those. She worked nights. The last couple times I’ve been back to see the neighborhood, Marion’s car wasn’t in the driveway and I wondered if she worked days now. Her yard still looks the same. I wonder if she eats Corn Pops with the kids who moved into my old house. I wonder if they appreciate her delicate craziness and rubber banded bags. I wonder if Marion is even there at all.

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