(Image Credit: Morguefile/ladyheart)
I think Administration officials publicly touting our economic "recovery" and dismissing bad news as "bumps in the road" should take a walk around my neighborhood.
We live in an area of mixed blue-collar/middle-class residences within walking distance of downtown. (It's a medium-sized town- neither a great city nor a rural hamlet- and home to more than one college.) We have lived here for over 10 years and as an habitual jogger I've become very familiar with the surrounding homes and streets.
It's high summer now, the season of two iconic American pastimes: yard sales and competitive tomato growing.
I've begun to notice subtle but accelerating changes in both.
Last spring I was on my way downtown when I passed a house with a large yard facing a busy street in a respectable, upwardly-mobile neighborhood. The entire front lawn had been dug up, discarded and replaced with an elaborate garden. No petunias or marigolds here; in place of flowers there was a complex of interlocking raised beds planted with squash, beans and peppers.
The iron handrails on either side of the steps had been pressed into service as trellises.
Like many Americans, I was accustomed to the suburban tradition of planting a small, pampered tomato patch. These were usually modest affairs, little gardening hobby-horses tucked discreetly behind the house. This yard meant business. It aspired to be a full-scale source of food and it didn't care who saw it.
I pointed it out to my husband. It stood out then.
It doesn't now. Since then I have seen more and more front yards disappear under the Rototiller, the square footage between curb and front porch given over to peppers, beans, squash and sweet potatoes. Last year a house two streets over had a stand of corn in the front yard. This year another home owner dug up the strip of ground between the sidewalk and the curb and planted a small apple tree.
It's bearing fruit, too.
These are not the vanity gardens of yesteryear, dedicated to the quest for the perfect tomato. These gardens are intended to fill dinner plates.
Yard sales aren't what they used to be, either. The usual handlettered signs are still tacked up on telephone polls and the usual folding tables are set up in yards, but the merchandise is different. During the past month, in addition to the traditional assortment of used clothing, books and toys I've seen the following at various yard sales:
- A handsome, king-sized sleigh bed in mint condition
- An antique 3-drawer dresser with full-size mirror
- Mohagany dining chairs with padded seats
- A roll-top desk
Some of these items are seen in the yards of homes already marked For Sale. It is almost as if, unable to sell their house, the homeowners have decided to recoup some of their loss by emptying it.
It's difficult to believe that Prosperity is Just Around the Corner when the house on that corner has turned its front yard into a food production unit and the house across the street has antique furniture on display marked For Sale Best Offer.
Yet there is resilience here, too. People who have given in to despair don't plant sweet potatos in their front yard.
I have recently been reminded of that resilience courtesy of Netflix, which is now offering the complete run of the TV series Jericho. Its premise is that terrorists have detonated a series of small nuclear bombs in the United States, destroying Washington D.C. and several other cities. The small farm town of Jericho, Kansas survives the attacks and is left to rebuild in a world suddenly reduced to 19th-century technology. Each episode shows the people of Jericho alternately bickering and cooperating as they rediscover the skills and values that once carved their town out of an empty prairie.
Jericho first aired in 2006. It stumbled along for two seasons without ever finding an audience and was cancelled. I wonder if it would find an audience now. The show was obviously conceived to play on our fears of terrorism, but as I watch the various characters repair the soles of their shoes with Super Glue or try to squeeze just a few more miles out of a precious tank of gas, I see reflections of the gardens and yard sales in my neighborhood.
Suddenly I can relate. Fresh corn from the front yard, anyone?