When I was twenty-eight I bought my first house, in Omaha, on 50th Avenue, south of Leavenworth. It was a cute little two bedroom, one bath with a full basement and big fenced-in backyard. Since I wanted to get a dog, it seemed perfect. I had a budget, and this house was in my price range at $29,000.
The cottage had been redone, and it was darling. What wasn’t so darling were the families on either side of it.
The old man and his wife to the south were grumpier than grumpy. He dug a trench in our side yard, because he was sure that my downspouts were causing his basement to flood. I just about broke my ankle the day I discovered it along our property line.
Since it was summer, I would sit in the sun in my wading pool to get a tan (oh, silly me — little did I know about sunscreen or skin protection in those days. Whenever I would go outside and turn my radio on, the old man would come out to mow his lawn, on purpose, several times a week. He must’ve been lying in wait for me to use my yard.
After an especially large tomato crop, I took the old McGrumpersons a bowl of red Early Girls and rang their doorbell. The man opened the door just far enough for me to see a stack of newspapers as high as he was and his wife’s pinched face peering at me from behind his arm.
“I thought you might like some of these,” I said, extending the bowl towards them.
They were speechless, but the look of surprise on their faces told me everything. He had wanted to hate me and was disappointed that I was doing something nice for them. He had to rethink it all after that.
On the north side of the house were the neighbors from hell — a man, his wife, and two children. I slowly figured out that he was physically abusing them all, at least the wife and son.
The wife let her daughter play in my pool while I was at work bar-tending. My first thought was lawsuit! Plus my dog was in the yard, so double lawsuit. After that, I had to lock up my dog in the house and lock my yard gate.
I could hear the arguments at night, and I could hear the man beating somebody. I asked my friends and fiance what to do. In those days, people didn’t get involved so much. They told me to stay out of it.
The boy mowed my yard for a while until his mower broke. He was a sweet kid, and I felt bad for his situation. I gave the kids treats whenever I could.
The mother bragged one day about the spatula burn on her cheek.
“Look what Fred did to me!” she said.
She seemed proud about it. I was confused.
The boy would sneak up to my bedroom windows on summer nights and peek inside. I could hear them rustling in the bushes, and my new puppy would start a low growl. I’d turn off the lights, then get up and close the curtains, cutting off the summer breeze. The kids would take the hint and go home.
One night Fred pounded on my front door at 2:00 a.m. He was drunk as a skunk.
“Come out here and talk to me!” he demanded.
Suddenly the scary neighbor was too close, and there was no avoiding him any longer.
“Go home, Fred!” I called through the open bedroom window that faced the street.
“Come out here! I need to talk to you!”
“Go home, or I’m calling the police,” I said.
He left, and after my heart stopped pounding, I got up and locked my windows. I couldn’t sleep, so I called the police and heard them do a drive-by.
Then Fred brought home a pit bull puppy and tied it up alongside my driveway. The dog’s chain reached just to where I would get out of my car if I didn’t want to park in the garage. Pit bulls are not bad dogs, but with an abuser as its owner, it seemed like a bad combination.
I got engaged with plans to move to California. When I was gone teaching school, the UPS man dropped off lots of wedding gifts at my front door. Fred’s wife took them for safe-keeping until I got home.
I was lucky to sell the house. It sold in the winter when there was snow and ice on the ground and Fred’s family was inside.
These days someone would’ve turned in the abuser. It seemed like a bad idea at the time.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve turned in Fred for beating his family, I would’ve come home one day and found a horse’s head in my bed, or my dead puppy, or broken windows, or something creepy. He was creepy. I was afraid of him.
I can’t remember Fred’s wife’s name, but I can still see the red outline of a slatted spatula on her face.