Ten-Year-Old Faye

Ten-year-old Faye sat on the long antique piano bench in the formal living room of Butterfield Road. During their last phone chat, Blythe hinted that she had sent Faye something ‘special’ for her June birthday. After a maddening and frustrating forty minutes of required piano practice, Faye swiveled around on the bench to watch for the postman. Her attention was diverted by the crew of young workmen, the huge yellow tractors and the veils of sand-colored dust drifting through the air from across the street. A new house was being built on the corner. The construction process fascinated her. She wanted to get a closer look but her mother wouldn’t allow it. Butterfield Road was a busy street; strictly off limits to Faye without her parent’s permission. Faye had also learned there seemed to be an unwritten social rule of maintaining distance between neighbors. Privacy was well-guarded. Neighbors didn’t just drop in on one another. Even getting the mail had an established routine and social etiquette.

Across the street from their house, the Monroe’s weathered mail box sat next to five others, in a perfect symmetrical row, shaded by the tall leafy trees overhead. Faye had a front row seat on her piano bench and could watch the distinctively noisy old post truck pull up and then leave so quickly she started to time each delivery with the metronome; that odd little device meant to teach musical tempo. Using an adjustable pendulum, the arrow-shaped arm would ‘click, click, click’, creating a perfectly timed beat. She was always devising eccentric little experiments; guessing if the postman would deliver the mail in ten clicks, or twelve. After several weeks, she stopped setting the metronome, as most all the deliveries took sixteen clicks and the experiment lost its allure.

Neighbors rarely, if ever, got their mail at the same time. This unspoken understanding precluded any possibility for leisurely chats or exchange of gossip. Sometimes, Faye would catch a glimpse of the mysterious, grouchy old man that lived directly across the street, next to the new house being built. He was a shadowy figure and quite intriguing as his large front yard was wild and overgrown; the house nearly invisible because it sat far back on the lot, almost completely hidden by the tangled web of ivy and vines twisting every which way.

Only a small square section of French windows could be seen sparkling in the morning sunlight. A ten-foot fence with wide heavy gates did not allow access to anyone without special permission, which was granted by pressing a black button on a square metal box installed on a post. Faye had even seen people talk into a vented opening as they pushed the black button. Once, when she had been allowed to pick up the mail, she looked closely at this device; wondering if he might be a secret agent or spy.

One of the highlights of Faye’s piano bench matinee was watching the grouchy old man pick up his mail. He would open one side of the huge creaking gate, just a crack, and peek out to see if anyone was about. When the coast was clear, he made a mad dash to the post box and then back behind the gate. It all seemed very suspicious to Faye. Years later, married to Michael, they happened upon a conversation about this grumpy old man. Michael told her, "When Dad began building the new fence between our yards, he nailed the wide boards to some of the existing posts of the grumpy old man’s fence. The grumpy old man came running out of his house yelling and hitting the newly installed fence boards with a sledge hammer. I remember Dad getting so mad I thought he might get into a fist fight with the guy. But it didn’t go to blows. Needless to say, our ‘neighborly’ relationship remained tense the entire time we lived in the house. I don’t believe my parents ever spoke to him. Once, an off-hand remark was made that he might have been in the Witness Protection Program. Whoever he was and whatever his story, the grumpy old man was full of pain and unhappiness and he hated kids! I’m guessing that might be one of the reasons we moved. We didn’t know any of our neighbors, including you! We had come from a neighborhood, Morningside, where we knew everyone. When we moved to Oak Avenue from Sleepy Hollow, we made friends quickly and knew all our neighbors again. Sorry to say, but The Hollow was not a neighbor-friendly place.” Michael paused and laughed, “Or, maybe, it was us! The Duncan family was a household filled with noisy confusion and activity. No doubt we created quite a commotion in the neighborhood.”

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