Urban pioneer girl

Have I told you about the guy next door? He’s lived there all his life. I have this narrow, weird opening in my shed because when the guy next door was a kid, the people who lived here (same people who sold me the house) had a dog that they apparently never let in. I should try that with Edsel. Make him a backyard dog. See how he does. He’d make an impassioned video, it’d go viral, someone would build him an Edsel mansion made of Blu.

Anyway, they never let the dog in, and it bothered the guy next door, so he carved a door in the shed for the dog to go in and out. Kills me.

The point is he still lives there and he might enjoy a cocktail or two. This has been his cross to bear.

He does odd jobs. Someone picks him up in some mornings and I think he paints rooms or what have you. He was living with Sissy the cat’s mom, who planted flowers from seeds she got at the dollar store, and they’re just beautiful. They’re those round white tube-shaped flowers that kind of grow all over yonder. What are those called?

She also cooked and did laundry a lot—there was always stuff hanging on the line. They still have one of those T-shaped old-fashioned clotheslines in the back. I always liked seeing clothes out there. Reminded me of my gramma.

Then they had a big fight and she left, but she’s still around the neighborhood. She takes Sissy out on a wagon, in her cat carrier. Sometimes Sissy is on her own and bounds to the door to play with Milhous, who is always happy to see her.

I’ve no idea where the ex stay at (that’s how people around here put it, “Where she stay at?”) but she’s around a lot. Sometimes I give her food for Sissy.

So, I have two things to tell you regarding this. The guy next door’s at the end of our block. We’re also at a dead end. Behind us is a field and then a steep dropoff and the railroad tracks. So basically beyond us are our sheds then our alley then fields then a cliff.

The other night, I was throwing Blu for Edsel when I threw it clear over my fence and into his yard. Eds was beside himself.

“Can I go in your yard to look for my dog’s toy?” I asked him. The guy next door lived with his mother until her death, so his house still has things like a mailbox with a cardinal on it and a metal lamb on his fence gate, all of which kills me. He stood on his back deck while I traipsed in the yard. The grass was sort of grown, so I worried I’d step clean on an asp or something.

“What’s it look like?” he yelled out. “When I get the grass cut, I’ll look for it.”

How do you explain a phenomenon like Blu? Meanwhile, Edsel was in our yard commemorating it in oils. He’s built a sort of Watts Tower in homage.

I never found it. One, the yard is huge and two, even when your grass is cut it’s hard to find Blu. It sinks in. I ordered another, in red, so Blu will be red now and I understand everything is chaotic now. But I think Eds has trouble seeing blue Blu in the green grass, anyway, so.

But here’s why I’m telling you this. I stepped behind his shed, which is of course identical to mine, minus the dog door. I love how all of us have identical 87-year-old houses and sheds and even trees planted in the same spot. The mills did all that. We all have alleys because that’s where the mills put our outhouses. I could use that now for a cat litter room, but there’s not one outhouse left in the entire three-block neighborhood anymore.

Behind my next-door neighbor’s shed was a blanket, a pillow and cat dishes.

Is his ex sleeping behind his shed? Is she? I can’t even stand the thought of it. I promise you he never checks back there so she’ll get away with it forever.

That night I was trying to sleep but I kept thinking of putting a nicer pillow out for her, a better blanket. Is there something I could give her to store those, at least? Oh my god.

The other thing I wanted to tell you is that he has no water. Once Sissy’s mom moved out, he didn’t have enough to pay the bill, and a bunch of us in the neighborhood checked to see how much it’d be to turn it back on and it was


just to get it back on. Water assholes.

So at night, the guy next door takes water from my hose on the side. I told him to stop knocking and asking, to just go get it. Some nights I hear the water turn on and it startles me, then I remember.

Last night there was a knock at my door. It was my neighbor.

He brought me some paintings to thank me for the water.

“Where did you get these?” I asked him.

“I painted them,” he said. “I have a bunch in the shed. I used to have them on the wall, but…” he trailed off.

“You painted these?” There were landscapes and tigers and the winter sky.

“Yeah, I used to do shit,” he said, looking bemused.

I thanked him, and he said he might be back in awhile to get a bucket of water.

I went in and put the picture of the lilies on the wall.

77 thoughts on “Urban pioneer girl

  1. I know I am a day late, but I had to comment. This is such a beautiful essay. Thank you for sharing your words with us, and your compassion with humanity and kittens… Many people have stated what a good person you are. I hope you believe it–because here’s the proof.

    Lovely post, lovely June!


  2. I’m so glad your neighbor has such kind folks around him. I hope the funds can be raised to turn on the water. And I hope Sissy’s mom can find a nearby warm place to stay once it is cold.


  3. You are a most beautiful person our dearest June.
    Sounds like you are on the way to solutions all around.
    It starts with one kind act and rolls into a giant snowball of world peace.


  4. This post breaks my heart. I know someone who was a volunteer with an assistance group in your city. Provided aid for folks having trouble feeding their kids, diapers, utilities, maintaining water, etc. If you want, I’d be happy to reach out to them and see if they have any suggestions. Maybe folks who routinely interact with the system would know how to get the b.s. water fee waived or at least converted to a credit on the account…. but I also don’t want to be a pushy advice giver here so…..

    You are lovely to help.


  5. Big sigh. Somehow I ended reading your posts quickly because I don’t want it to end. Which makes no sense. Except to me. Well, if i hurry up and ear those 3 cookies no one else will get them.

    Addiction can hard break some people. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be lovedor cared for.

    I love the kitten.


  6. Lurker who comments about once a year. Smiley face. I just PayPal-ed some dollars for the neighbor’s water. Keep us updated here or via (Face)book of June since I may be able to send a bit more. I’ve had no Vet bills since January 2019 (knock on wood) so I’m feel rich. Debbie


  7. Aww, you are such a kind- hearted neighbor. I imagine his art would sell well on Etsy or in a local venue. Would Kit sell these on consignment at her store?
    Let us know how we can help you help him.


  8. The paintings are wonderful as is your writing. Thank you for sharing both with us.

    Regarding your neighbors, I echo the words of all of your empathetic readers.


  9. Oh my gosh that poor man. And woman. Would he see a tent if she put one up? What does she do in the rain. This is all awful., He could sell those paintings. All of this story just made me sad except for the part where Sissy gets to go for wagon rides.


  10. Addiction sucks. I want to thank you somehow for sharing your water with him. When I was a kid we had some crazy financial setbacks and didn’t have a phone for a while. Our neighbor let us use his by plugging in a cordless base and letting us use the handset. We’d have to stand on the porch but we had a phone. I’m still grateful. What you are doing reminds me of that.


  11. I think you should name your book “Essays by an Urban Pioneer Girl.”

    Asshat water people probably only have to flip a switch or turn a knob but they want $400. Ridiculous. You are a good egg Junie Brown.


  12. This type of post is why you have so many readers. You do such a wonderful job of drawing us right into the story of these two individuals.


  13. What a lovely post June. I would be willing to add a tip to help with getting his water back on. Love his pictures and that he still values them by keeping. Reminding him of better times. Broke my heart at the thought of the woman sleeping outside with Sissy. You have a lovely, caring neighborhood June.


  14. Wow, what a post. You are so kind to let him use your water. My mother used to let a poor old woman who lived on our dead end street in an old falling-down Victorian manse use our water. Every day she would come up with her old dirty bucket and walk back home. Our dog thought she was hers and stayed with her.

    Those flowers are trumpet flowers. Four o’ Clocks are colorful and smaller.


  15. I agree with every single comment provided today. This whole post got me RIGHT in the feels. You are such a talented writer. What made me laugh today though, was “I’ve no idea where the ex stay at.” Therein is an example of your brilliance. Using the parlance of your area to season your non-blog post was in my estimation, a particularly amusing and clever device.
    Like others, I was so disappointed when this lovely read was completed. I also will read it several times. I am always transported from my own day-to-day concerns when I read your posts, so I always look so forward to them. I am very often found truly laughing out loud. Thank you for sharing your gift with us, for it is a true gift you possess. Lovely post, lovely June.


  16. I wonder how many paintings he has. Maybe one of your local coffee shops would allow him to hang and sell his art. We have one here that does that.


    • I agree he could try this, but he has no car, and he’s very stricken by alcoholism. He’s not some energetic upstart looking to make his way in the world. He is, however, the one who wanted to sell pears. I wonder if he ever did.

      I called the water company and I will need to go there with two forms of ID for him if I get his water turned back on. Also, if “the city” finds out they’ll condemn the house and he’ll have to move out.


      • My next door neighbors (fmr) were a worthless bunch who refused to pay their utility bills so the water, gas and electricity were always being turned off. Prior to their eviction last month, they had gone months without water. The city would put a lock on the water meter and they’d just cut it off so the city removed the entire mechanism, only reinstalling it once the residents were gone.

        You are good and kind for sharing your water with your neighbor.


        • No. Someone in the hood was paying it and then the girlfriend was and when they both stopped it got disconnected. The fee is for signing up again. Whatever, water department.


          • I wonder if he would qualify for low income rates or bill assistance? Sometimes that also comes with a lower/no deposit fee.

            Is the $400 a deposit? My Dad got hit with a really high deposit because he kept getting the utilities turned off (because he didn’t auto debit the payment & would forget to pay it until it got shut off). Once the bill was paid on time for a year, the deposit would be credited to the bill.


  17. Beautiful, June. If he still wants to paint I’ll contribute for art materials. If it comes up you could ask him if he wants to paint anymore cuz you know someone who might have some extra brushes and paper and whatever kind of paint he prefers.


  18. Such a tender-hearted story. I find these slice of life pieces to be your best.

    I hope some of the ideas for action that folks have shared can play out. The lilies fit you perfectly. Being a good neighbor matters.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What a beautiful post. It is so sad that someone with that much talent can’t find a way to make his living from it, or at least supplement his income.


  20. I hope they can make up. I suppose it is too simple to hope that enough peace could be made so that one could have shelter and another could have water. What a sad story. You are so kind to share water. I hope your goodness spreads over to help them fix things up.


  21. This is a prime example of your superior writings. I read this to my husband. I’m in tears.

    The thought of the ex sleep behind the shed, like you, just kills me. Maybe a big, clear, plastic storage box could store a blanket and pillow and a bag of cat food. Someone suggested earlier to sell his paintings for the reconnection fee. Then there’s the problem of him continuing to pay the bill to keep his water on…addiction is a vicious circle. This is so sad. You are a great neighbor to share your water.


    • Four o’clock bushes/plants have little black seeds in the little capsule where the bloom used to be after the bloom falls off. I used to pick the seeds off my grandmother’s 4:00 bushes and the blooms were always red/pink/purple color.


  22. If we raised enough money to turn the water back on, do you think he would be able to keep it turned on? This whole post just touched my heart. I would be willing to leave a tip in the tip jar for this man! And the thought of his ex sleeping behind the shed just makes my heart hurt.


    • There are neighbors who are willing to pay his monthly water bill–that’s like $20 a month. I thought of maybe selling his paintings online or something and calling the water company after.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. What a sweet and tender post today. Made me feel all mushy inside. The neighbor is actually kinda talented. Both paintings are keepers for sure. Poor Eds will be so blue without blu.


  24. This is a top notch example of your extraordinary writing skills, pretty coot. You move us with your way around a tale, funny, amusing and then wham a hard hit to the feels. This is why you are so missed during your breaks. You are a truly kind soul. I like both paintings but am enamored of the kitten one.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. There is so much in this post, you’re a fantastic writer! I’m so glad you hung the lillies painting up, is the other meant to be Lily? I hope red Blu is a hit with Edsel!

    Lovely post, pretty June.


  26. Angriest kitten ever! What a cool way to say thank you: to share something of his past, something he’s clearly proud of. At the same time, how sad that both their lives have gone so downhill due to splitting up (if she is, in fact, living behind his shed). I agree you should sneak out there at night to see if she’s there. If he went in the shed to get his paintings, I’m surprised he didn’t spot the blanket et al. But I guess if he just went to the building and went in and didn’t walk around it, then he’d miss it.


  27. This is what a neighborhood is supposed to be like — people helping one another. It’s all too rare nowadays, isn’t it? Lovely post, definitely one for your book, should you write one.


  28. Image after image conjured up here. Beautiful writing about some sad things. What strikes me most is how much your neighbor trusts you. Sharing our creations is scary as hell, and he felt that he could, and that he was giving you something valuable in return for your water. I’ll be thinking about this post all day. The line “I used to do shit” broke my heart.


  29. What a great post! Your neighbours sound like wonderful people to even think of trying to help but that’s a massive fee. Hopefully that was temporary quarters while better accommodation was found. I love that lily painting.


  30. Wow, everything about this writing was beautiful. I am a numbers person and not verbally clever enough to express how this piece made me feel. But I was really moved, thank you.


  31. This is some great, interesting writing! I hated when it was over, so I will read it again and again. So many visuals and feelings.


  32. I would love to see more of his paintings, if he would be amenable to that.

    As for the mystery blanket and pillows, maybe a plastic tote? That’s so heartbreaking.


  33. I hope behind the shed ain’t where she stay at. I would probably sneak over at night to check it out. Also, don’t be surprised when you hear I’ve been stabbed doing something stupid. Lovely post, June.


  34. I just want to read this post over and over! Every bit of it, the weird opening in your shed, the pillow and blanket behind his. The water hose, the paintings.

    I’m envisioning every detail and this post? This post right here? Should be a short film. Or a vignette in one of those vignette-y movies.

    I’m concerned that I sound like a wacko, but this post!

    Also too, I feel like it should be whacko but my phone speller assures me that it’s wacko, so.
    The end.


    • I agree. The short films they show on PBS on Saturdays in between regular movies? This would be ideal for that. June needs a filmmaker collaborator.


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