Tamara Jorell

Writing life and the neighborhood

Writing life and the neighborhood

 

The calling: Part 2

During a weeding session one day, the truth came to me, vivid as the astilbe in my garden, fully magenta now and shooting its brilliant arrows. Like the flower, it was striking, bold. The revelation? The calling had its costs—for everyone.

I already knew the calling, the basketball hoop for the neighborhood kids, had cost our family. Young ones were drawn to our hoop, and their play often unraveled into small acts of vandalism on our property. I had filed it away as part of the inner-city price for doing a good thing. But for the first time, I thought of the expense for those around us.

Dallas had mentioned the basketballs that flew into his yard. He understood; he’d been young once. Passing in through his back gate, the neighborhood kids had retrieved them, bulldozed through his flowers, catapulted over our shared cinder block wall, buzzed through our back yard, and exited through our gate to resume their game. Dallas had stated the facts without complaining, and I had absorbed them without judgment.

Glenda had talked about the balls zinging into her yard too. No problem, she had said. She only wished the kids would remember to shut the gate. And move aside when they saw her trying to pull her car into her garage. She had shrugged—no complaining—and I had listened without drawing a conclusion.

But in our determination to do the right thing—for better or worse—we had made life more difficult for the adults around us. Husband and I agreed to put our home’s magnet up for sale. From Craig’s List it came, to Craig’s List it shall return, I thought.

“We’re going to let the basketball hoop go,” I told the neighbors. “It’s gotten out of hand.”

They wouldn’t have suggested the ousting of The Main Attraction on the Block, but they admitted they were relieved. “That first group of kids was the best. Maybe the hoop was meant for them,” one of them said.

I recalled the good years. Neighborhood teenagers doing layups on hot summer nights, Husband and I strolling outside to ask their names if they were new. When they trusted us, the teens told us about their lives—about getting jobs or being fired; about what positions they played in certain sports or about how they had been suspended from school. We had listened to them, and they had listened back.

After we had decided the hoop would leave our family but before it was gone, a new kid showed up at our door. His name was Marvell, he said, and could one of our girls come outside?

“The other kids won’t play with me.” The little boy’s face drooped.

I motioned to Ricka, the first of my girls to enter my field of vision. She tilted her head and mouthed Mo-om!, but I widened my eyes, so she followed the kid to the driveway.

From the kitchen window, I watched them play. A fourteen-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy. I nibbled my lower lip, and my heart twisted.

 

A day later, a man from the suburbs came to buy our basketball hoop. After he drove away, I ignored the bare spot on our driveway, my stomach jumping, wondering if we had done the right thing after all.

Later that evening came a knock at the front door. Marvell.

“Where’d the hoop go?” he asked.

Husband explained. The kid’s expression sagged. That lonely, hangdog look again. He turned away and slumped down the front steps. Minutes later, we saw him ripping around our front yard, barreling through our hostas, tossing his ball into the air and smacking it against the house.

Husband and I sauntered outside to watch him.

“Where are your parents, Marvell?” Husband said.

“In Chicago.” The boy shot his basketball into our rain barrel. “I’m staying with Granny.”

My man rested his forearms on our front steps’ railing. “What do they do in Chicago?”

“My dad makes toys. My mom exercises.” He unrolled our garden hose, whipped it over his head like a lasso, and then cranked the spigot on.

Husband showed Marvell how to turn it off and coil up the hose again, but the kid ran away.

 

The next day, I sat on our porch, sipping tea and thinking about the first group of kids we had met six years earlier because of the hoop: Keyondra, Peanut, Armani, Antoine. I always grinned when I thought of Keyondra, her smile never far from the surface even though she tried to hide it.

Just then, an SUV pulled up in front of our house. A woman emerged and made her way to my front steps. Donna, Keyondra’s mother, from down the alley. What were the chances?

I didn’t tell her I had just been thinking about her kid—and the others—who were never far from my mind. Instead, I gave her a hug.

“I see you got rid of the basketball hoop,” she said.

“Yeah, it had gotten hard.” I underscored my statement with a nod.

“It’s good you let it go.” She plugged her hands into her hips and bobbed her head. “Those kids came from all over. Got into all kinds of trouble in the alley on their way to your place.”

“Oh no.”

She told me about some of our basketball players vandalizing the bus she drove for work, which was parked in her driveway. They had broken into it numerous times, messed with all the knobs inside, and then finally rammed a steel rod through one of its wheels.

“I’m sorry to hear this.” I frowned at the big picture. I had only watched the show on the stage—not what was going on behind the curtains. “I wish you had said something.”

“No, no.” She waved away my statement like a pesky fly. Then came that smile that belonged more to her eyes than her mouth. “We saw what you were trying to do for those kids.”

 

The acts of mischief on our property and in the alley disappeared along with the basketball hoop, but the blank space on the driveway hadn’t changed anything inside of us. The needs around us hadn’t changed either. I opened my ears to The Next Thing, a new calling.

And in our neighborhood, it would surely come.

Marvell and Ricka.

Marvell and Ricka.

 

 

*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date

*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.

© 2014 Tamara Jorell. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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