Caring for Public Things

The area around RedQuarters has been blessed (?), has endured (?), has had the roads repaved. It’s about once every 6-8 years or so, and the city puts down more tar, gravel, and tar. The days leading up to the application are tense, the day of is frantic with “Quick, get out before you’re stuck!” and “Aiee, move your car, move your car!” for those parking on the street or who have errands later that day. The mix needs at least two hours to “set” before you should drive on it, so the parking areas around the neighborhood got rather full.

One side-effect is that tarry gravel ends up on sidewalks and driveways. People chase it back into the street for the city to collect, or don’t. However, the city park in the area doesn’t get swept. It did get the weeds mowed down, which was good, but the sidewalks remained rocky and sporting. Dog owners opted to walk their dogs on the grass, and parents had to keep vehemently discouraging little kids from picking up the shiny black rocks, or putting the shiny black rocks in their mouths.

Saturday morning I was out strolling. The morning have been in the mid 60s, a bit of a break from the still overly warm afternoons and evenings (we’re running 5-10 degrees above average. I prefer below average and wet, thanks.) All the streets are pretty much done with the gravel, so it’s safe to walk, mostly.

Swish, swish. I rounded the corner leading to the park and saw a determined lady with fluffy grey hair and a broom. She attacked the sidewalks around the park, and the gutters as well, chasing tarry gravel into the street. She lives in that block, and I’ve seen her working in her yard. She’d had enough.

Swish, swish. She’d cleaned a third of a mile of sidewalk and was still going string, chasing black rocks into the street. Her frown of concentration and rapid pace suggested that no one and nothing was going to stop her from cleaning the rocks off of the sidewalk.

A lot of civilization and society depends on people like the lady with the broom. The people who quietly collect the newspapers and mail for home-bound neighbors and take them to the front door. The people who move broken branches out of the street after a storm. The folks who pick up bits of trash and put them in the bin or dumpster, who quietly offer to help with that awkward box, or hold a door, or put a few stray grocery carts in the corrals, or right wind-tipped garbage cans.

Res publica. A thing of the populace, like the park, and the people who tidy up the park. I’ve mused before on how small things matter, because small things encourage bigger things. I’m reading a collection of essays by geographers entitled Why Place Matters, and one argument they all have is that humans are place-centered. We need places, touchstones, stable points where we know the lay-out and the culture. “Citizens of the world” don’t always make good citizens of a place. Humans come from bands, tribes, and villages, and our need for landmarks and something familiar and constant is not a bad thing, despite what some sophisticates might believe. The majority of people are healthier and happier in a real, tangible community. Family is the foundation, family and place. Caring for both of those helps ground us mentally and socially. For some of us, spiritually as well, with well known locations for worship and meditation.

Swish swish. A broom against a mildly irritating mess. One neighbor reclaiming use of the sidewalk. One brick in the foundation of the community stabilized, quietly, on a cool, breezy pre-dawn August morning.

10 thoughts on “Caring for Public Things

  1. God bless her. The lady reminds me of any number of Italian, Irish, Polish, and German ladies of an advanced age, when I was growing up. Twice a week they would scrub down their stoops and sweep their sidewalks. The local miscreants always seemed to be extra careful around them and their houses. She would probably have him in a firm ear-hold, reaching way up, when the police arrived.

  2. Local park hasn’t been cleaned since the big Iowa windstorm.

    There’s a grandfather that brought his kids to play in his really cute little Tesla sportscar…and next day, they walked, and he brought a rake.

    A neat thing that I’ve only seen in Iowa is that while they’ve got some mini-libraries, they also have much bigger boxes/houses/pre-refrigerator fridge setups for charity boxes. For a silly example, I frequently buy stuff in multi-packs because that’s the only way to get it, and then I find out they changed the recipe so nobody in our house likes it anymore. I can take the other five containers and put it there, we aren’t obligated to work through it, and somebody gets some use out of it. (Even if it’s only finding out about the changed formula WITHOUT buying the mega pack)

  3. Which explains a lot of the problems with government lately. Our would-be elites decided they were Citizens of the World, as opposed to “I live here in NYC/Mobile, AL/Seattle/etc.”

    • “Citizens of the World” should mean little more than “I read the web from ALL over” (used to be, “I listen to shortwave.”). That doesn’t mean one does NOT *live* in the local locale.

      I listened to BBC World Service, Radio France International (who chose ‘RFI’ for a radio service?!), Radio Free China (Taipei, Taiwan), ABC (Australian…), HCJB (“Voice of the Andes”), Radio Moscow and plenty more… but I *lived* in either Merrill or Platteville, WI at the time…

  4. In New York or Chicago, sweeping the sidewalk would be a job for a unionized city employee (even if one wasn’t assigned to it), and she’d be arrested for interfering with city services.

  5. Babushka! They are truly the backbone of this (or any other) country. And no, don’t get in their way…

  6. That’s one of the things that people in functional societies do – take care of little things like that. Last week, when we were walking the dogs, we overtook a woman and her two middle-school aged children and their dog – and they were picking up trash along the street. Not that there was a lot of it, but the usual small stuff that perhaps fell out of trash cans, or that some retard threw out of their car window when driving through. Another elderly neighbor made a habit of collecting bottles and cans for the recycle bin.

  7. I vividly remember having to bathe cats who had been outdoors during the re-paving. Black sticky stuff all over their paws and so,etc es elsewhere. Being cats of course, they did not like having dirty paws, but also did not like being cleaned by humans.

  8. Apropos of not much, one of the food safety blogs (the mellifluously named Barfblog – accept no substitutes) noted that the US Army just funded a study of those few unfortunate circumstances when salmonella can survive in low moisture foods, such as in ration packs. Apparently peanut butter is one of those things that it loves. There is a link to the full paper, which I haven’t read yet, but it seems like a Good Thing to Know.

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