The Ageless Lure of Wet Concrete
I work at an urban university where as enrollment expands, many of the nearby original family houses built in the early 1900s are being torn down, a neighborhood’s dreams and memories hauled away in piles of ruble and dust. These homes are replaced with brick condos and “Uptown” coffee and wine shops, bistros and art galleries. On my walk in from parking in the morning, I would pass many now vacant lots and empty houses waiting for the next swing of the wrecking ball. One older frame house remained occupied. Though in disrepair, the house during the spring and summer months was framed with an abundance of well cared-for, multi-color roses and other wonderfully fragrant flowers that grew on fences and up old wooden trellis.
The woman who tended the flowers had lived in this house since her childhood. Though older now, she moved still with the fluid grace of a dancer. She wore faded linen day dresses from another time. Her cocoa-colored skin was smooth with an age-shadowed dignity. The long hair of her youth, now mostly silver with ebony-colored streaks, was always tied in a neatly formed bun. We would often talk about the flowers. She told me about the huge, perfectly formed nearby oak tree she watched as a child being planted and pruned 70-many years ago. She told me about her long departed neighbors; her church just down the block; and her many dancing experiences all around Virginia from earlier in her life. She smiled when I brought her fresh roe-filled herring that my father-in-law netted in the spring.
One morning, I found her standing on the front porch, literally bouncing on her toes in excitement, her smile sun-lit. The city planned to pour a new sidewalk that day in front of her house. Like a child, she planned to carve her initials in the wet concrete, leaving her mark one last time on a vanishing neighborhood she would soon leave.
My friend and her house are gone now; the initials she carved in the wet concrete are barely noticeable. Marks we make in concrete do harden and eventually crumble. I often think of the joy she brought to our morning talks, her timeless beauty, her lack of bitterness, the mark our fleeting friendship left on me, the enduring mark I am sure she left on the hearts of many others.
I have heard that a sign of a life well-lived is being without regrets at the moment of death. I wonder if another is an ageless understanding of the lure of wet concrete.