Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Waverly Street: New Home, New Start, 2012

Seashell Roses, yard, 2012
My Morning Walk Greeter
Waverly Street is wrens in my yard eating seed and a tuxedoed cat that slinks like a slick of ink, down the fire escape toward them. It’s the yard in April,

which was a spoil of vines, poison ivy, muddy holes, and foot-tall weeds. Large shards of broken plate glass was embedded everywhere in the dirt. Now the yard is flowering with dahlias, coneflowers, cosmos, tomatoes, snapdragons, and coreopsis. Mud wasps come each day and pulse their thoraxes in the wet earth. Honeybees huddle on the coneflowers and dive into the hosta’s pale purple blooms. Rosie runs on the dirt path I've left open for her--chasing sticks, balls and that inky cat slinking in the alleyway. Even a hummingbird has visited my red geraniums.

Waverly Street is a big scary dude bellowing across the street at me and Rosie, “I got $500 in my pocket right now, and I want your damn dog,”  (I assume for a dog fight ring) and me foolishly trying to explain to him why I can’t sell this dog I love. (Shut up, Sharon. Just keep walking!”) Waverly Street is my eight-year old neighbor, Helena, who put a “friendship” magnet on the chain link fence between us “so you’ll always know that I’m your friend.” Waverly Street is also her puppy, Biscuit, who gallops over each morning and sticks his blonde head through the hole in the fence to greet me.

Biscuit, 2012
Across the street is the Wilkinsburg Church of the Nazarene, and on these hot summer Sundays, as I water and weed my garden, I hear the deep river rise and fall of the preacher’s voice, the call and response: Amen! Amen!  Soon enough, there’s the jangle of tambourines, percussion of clapped hands, and voices praising the Lord! in song. (Sometimes, I catch their fervor and do a little dance on my yard’s gravely dirt.) 

Garden in Progress
Waverly Street is my neighbor’s, Andy and Julia’s brand new fence, a dazzle of perfectly milled pine and a swing-in gate at the front walk. Andy, a remarkable carpenter, is rebuilding their house, floorboard by newel post. The fence is his latest addition to the property. Julia showed me photos of the original house, which they bought for $10,000, five years ago. It looked like something that the city should have condemned and razed to the ground. Since then, Andy’s sweat equity has already turned it into something from “House Beautiful.”
Rosie by the neighbor's new fence

But just doors away, there’s the decrepit three-story apartment building with broken beer bottles in lieu of a front lawn and dank balconies from which the tenants toss down their dead plants and trash. What grabbed my attention—and has kept my daily attention living on Waverly Street—is how one neighborhood can so gracefully (and with humor) hold such contradictions.

Joni and her purple larkspur live near Waverly Street. Each week, she places new plants—sedums, hostas, Black-eyed Susan, larkspur seeds—in her “Free! Take Them!” boxes in front of her urban “farm,” which she’s tilled since 1973.  And Bonfire Man and Boxer Dog live down her street. Bonfire Man’s out on his patio again, warming his hands by his nightly wood fire, no matter that it’s 99 degrees out, or that his boxer is wailing blues through chain-link to my beautiful dog walking by. 

All Aboard!
A few blocks from Waverly Street is one of Mike’s Amusements—a ride-able shiny black steam engine and set of crayon-colored (Red! Orange! Blue! Yellow!)  “box” cars—heaped in “Mike’s” backyard, awaiting the next weekend’s carnival.  And there’s Sue pulling weeds in her side garden, which takes up half a city block. It is chock full of tomatoes and pepper plants, cucumber and pumpkin vines—and is bordered by a variety of carved wood and metal headboards. (Get it, she grins, get it?  It’s a garden bed!) 

Waverly Street is also the beautiful young man who staggers down the street, his eyes, drug-glazed. He flutters his hands like a fledgling trying out wings. He looks bewildered. Stops. Stares at his right shoe as if he’s forgotten how to lift his foot.

Brickwork across the street
I’m living on a “Historic Corridor” at an intersection of two city streets. My friend told me once that some cultures believe that spirits dwell in the intersections. If so, are these the spirits of the French and Indians, who battled here long ago? And what would past inhabitants make of this half-ruined, half-resurrected neighborhood?

Each morning, a young mom walks by with her two pre-school aged boys and their dog, also named Rosie. The older boy is learning to whistle and his breathy tunes carry through the front screen windows. Yesterday afternoon, a woman, who made me think of William Carlos Williams’ “poor old woman/eating" a "solace of ripe plums," called me over.

“I’ve just been released from Western Psych.” She’s holding a bag of
food from Wendy’s and an extra large soda.

“I was in there 3 ½ months. I’m not ashamed of it, you know?”

She says the hardest part was that she had to give up her 3 elderly cats. “Can’t take care of them, till I can take care of me, right?”

I nod, feel sad for her.  She sets her food down in the street, kneels and buries her face in Rosie’s soft fur.  For a couple of minutes, I’m worried she’s crying. But then she beams up at me and says, “This is a God moment.”  

Tiger Lily 2012
4th of July night, Waverly Street. ½ of my new neighborhood seems to be setting off fireworks. I mean real KABOOM-fountains-and-rockets-exploding-chrysanthemum-in-the-sky-fireworks.  Andy and Julia’s yard is crowded with assorted relatives. Young cousins lob water balloons at each other, while the family’s three dogs alternate between play fighting and yowling at the rat-a-tat volley of firecrackers. Henry, the old bachelor across the street from them, normally a very quiet, staid guy who manicures his lawn and sweeps his sidewalks daily, fires bottle rockets into the air from the bottom step of his porch. They explode in red and blue and tangerine starbursts over my apartment building. The noise is deafening, but the falling red and silver stars are beautiful.  It’s awfully hot this 4th of July. In my kitchen, I flip burgers, stir baked beans, and pull corn on the cob from a boiling pot on the stove to feed my love, David, a chef who is exhausted from his own 12 hours of cooking that day for others. Waverly Street is also this song of food coming to the table and David’s easy grin at me.
Alleyway Near Waverly Street

Surprises around every corner
Since spring, a bunch of new, young families with infants have moved in and started renovating the old dilapidated homes. I see their window boxes go up, with marigolds and petunias brightening the brick facades. Tricycles and Big Wheels sprout on the lawns and surrounding sidewalks. A new couple walks back from the local East End Food Co-op, holding hands and murmuring to each other.  And Rosie, the neighborhood ambassador, and I introduce ourselves to them.

Dahlia Opening, Yard
Morning Glories, Rusty Garage
Waverly Street and its neighborhood is a study in diversity and contrasts, much like the startling blue morning glories that climb and twine against the corroded metal door of an ancient garage.  I’ve learned that my writing self emerges in these spaces between intersections. The daily surprise of these streets—and the tension of  its opposites—keeps my curiosity alive. Back in April, I had not wanted to leave my long-familiar neighborhood of Squirrel Hill.  I’d raised my son in Squirrel Hill, and its streets hold many memories. But, once again, my life has led me to a fertile new ground. From my first day here, my imagination has flared again. My new neighborhood has grit and grandeur, edge and earth, ruins and beauty. What more could a writer want?


  1. Sharon.... by far, this is one of the best things I've read that you've written. I cannot begin to describe the wonderful emotional feelings this piece has given me. As I read this, I could smell the perfumes of your garden; see and hear "the dude" asking to buy Rosie on a very warm, humid afternoon;the "deep river rise and fall of the preacher's voice" still echoes in my mind.

    And then there's Joni with her living gifts for the taking. The young man staggering down the street is so poignant and meaningful to me. The young mother with her little ones in tow, the "bombs bursting in air" and the whole description of the neighborhood are magnificent images in my in my mind's eye. And David is a very lucky and blessed man.

    Take care and thank you for this rather intimate glimpse into a part of your life.


    1. Oh, Gene--here is part of the magic of FB, I have to say. How lucky I am to still be in touch with you over all these years--to be able to read your poetry and to get your beautiful, supportive feedback to my own writing. And thanks for the kind words about David :-) I feel like a very lucky woman, also!
      xo Sharon

  2. Dear Sharon,
    For these brief few minutes I was ON Waverly Street, rooting for the cosmos and coneflowers against the grit, yet hoping too that it would always keep a little bit of the grit as the street is remade by people with hope.
    I worry too that the neighborhood has a little too much edge for MY sister, thank you, and think of city streets that can go either way, like Tricia's in Trenton, that don't always turn out as one would hope.
    Yet I was buoyed by your description of young families moving in with big dreams and Big Wheels, and women who garden a patch of city ground near on 40 years, and the carpenter turning a ruin into a thing of beauty.
    A beautiful piece, Shar, with wonderful, evocative prose and photos to match. Waverly Street is fortunate to have you there to pay it tribute.
    Love, Terry

    1. Dear Terry--You've made my day in so many ways! Thank you for your beautiful response and for your protective brother nature, too. :-) I love your line "yet hoping too that it would always keep a little bit of the grit as the street is remade by people with hope..." Lovely! Your response made me very happy--and made me feel as I did when we were in college together--supporting each other's creative projects (Venue!) love x0x0