At a house just one block away, the grass looks like turf instead of something real and diagonal lines run through the weed-free growth, evidence of a meticulous mower. I haven’t ever seen anyone either living there or working in the yard, but I imagine an elderly homeowner loving their lawn so much that they even use the kind of long-handled dandelion remover I see advertised in home improvement store fliers. Cheery flower pots squat on each side of the orange front door, colorful blossoms trailing from them. But this yard, bursting with curb appeal, is an exception in our neighborhood.
Attractiveness of a person’s residential property, as viewed from the street, matters. We hear this message everywhere. If the outside is pretty enough, it may lure someone inside to take a look—and pay more for the place—if it’s for sale.
Two blocks away, Doris’s yard suffered when she was alive. She appeared to be a collector of things, and maybe those things were claustrophobic because they broke out of her house and spilled onto her lawn like they needed fresh air. A tipped over antique milk can, rumpled chicken wire, wooden crates, a portion of an old wood fence, garden tools, and a bent screen door all lay in her back yard, the lawn jutting up like prairie grass all around it.
If a realtor rolled by, they would’ve cringed at Doris’s property. They would’ve advised her to freshen up her trim with several coats of paint, swap out her rusty mailbox with a new one, and replace her damaged walk with new cement. But those things never happened.
What did happen was Doris’s hard work in Mr. N’s yard day after day. She raked leaves, worked the weed trimmer, and mowed his lawn instead of her own, droplets of sweat rising on the mottled skin of her cheeks. I’d come out of our house and head to the car, and she’d set down whatever tool she was using and stroll toward me.
“How are those sweet girls of yours?” she said one time, dabbing her face with her sleeve.
“They’re good.” I abandoned thoughts of going where I needed to go, crossing the street to be closer to her. “They talk about you whenever they see you over there. They love you, Doris.”
She didn’t respond to my last sentence, but her face reddened, so I knew she heard it.
For the big holidays, Doris dropped off gifts for the girls on our doorstep: trinkets and candy in sparkly bags, plastic pumpkins, and heart-shaped boxes. So, who cared about the condition of her yard? We didn’t. Her life, like a delicious fragrance, scented our neighborhood.
Doris is gone now, but her actions stay lodged in our memories.
So, what if we turned our gazes inside-out to see the goodness of a homeowner who rescued dogs, letting them rip up her back yard while they played? What if we overlooked the mess to see the generous parent who threw parties for kids who shrieked in delight as they clubbed a piñata in the front yard? What if we switched our focuses away from exterior facades and instead judged a house by the kindness inside of it?
What if we looked at the heart instead of the yard? What then?