An open reply, not that you deserve it

27 April 2010
Categories: Chicago

Last week the following hand-written postcard was mailed to our home:

You have the ugliest front yard on [this street]—probably in all of Chicago. Garbage all over. Bottes all over. Get your lazy Ukranian asses moving and clean up your garbage dump. It is repulsive. All the other neighbors take pride in the neighborhood. You are absolute pigs.

[All misspellings and emphasis—in purple highlighter, no less—are in the original.]

In what way exactly did you expect us to respond to this angry, hateful, anonymous missive? Did you think we would leap up and run to the yard, tools in hand, and make drastic changes? Tear it all up and put down a nice, even layer of sod? Because truth be told, my initial reaction was to respond to your anger in kind, and decide that under no circumstances would I undertake any effort that might bring you any satisfaction.

Not that I would anyway. You see, the front garden is not my bailiwick—it is under the direction of my septuagenarian mother-in-law. You have attacked a senior citizen. She is, far from being lazy, one of the most hard-working and industrious people you could meet, at any age. Her gardening style may be a bit unconventional, perhaps, and her budget is limited, but her results have been both interesting and beautiful. We offer to help, but more often than not she prefers to do the work herself.

The garden you see is not the result of laziness, it is a work in progress. The “bott[l]es” you mention, unless they were the transitory garbage of passing drunks—a commonality of any urban environment, and something we clean up whenever we see it—were probably the Mason jars that she had upended over the shoots of tender perennials, as impromptu “cold frames” to protect them from late-season frosts. Meanwhile, the area near the street—which is city property—is still recovering from the city workers who cut down a dead tree last year, but left the roots behind. (And who got off their asses and called the city about that tree? Yes. We did.)

Sure, in early spring the lack of grass makes it appear as if nothing is growing there, but that could not be further from the truth. It’s late April now and things are changing rapidly. The ground cover is filling in neatly between plantings. The hostas are sprouting thick and healthy. A neat row of day lilies is getting ready to do its thing. The rhododendrons are blooming now, and the roses will later. All this did not occur without significant effort.

Is our front yard a boring, generic mass of lawn, like that of every other house on the block? No—and I’m glad it’s not. If you want dull, thoughtless uniformity, I know of more than a few suburbs that might suit you.

Your accusation of laziness, and your implication of unneighborliness, are without any merit. Who has stood in the street in drenching rains, working to clear blocked drains along the entire block before the curbs overflow and dump rainwater and sewage into nearby basements—drains that have clogged with debris that remains in the gutters thanks to other residents who have been either too lazy, too self-absorbed, or too oblivious to move their vehicles on street sweeping days? That would be me. To my knowledge only one other neighbor on the block has even attempted to pick up what the street sweeper could not reach.

By the way, we are not Ukrainian; but would be proud if we were, for on the whole they have shown themselves to be good people who have been both friendly and welcoming to us. This neighborhood is called Ukrainian Village for a reason. If you have a problem with Ukrainians, you are most assuredly in the wrong place, and you need to go somewhere else. The sooner the better.

I really only have one question for you. Who has brought more ugliness into the world: my family, with our front yard filled with flowering plants; or you, with your hateful, insulting, race-baiting, poison-pen postcard?

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