One census address was particularly difficult to find, since it was off a street that disappeared for a section where a stultifying new housing development was put in about 4 years ago. The previous enumerator said s/he couldn’t find it. But I kept snootering around till the street popped up on the other side of the new neighborhood.
I found the house at the end of a long, winding drive through gorgeous forest. It was a stunning craftsman-style home with a meticulously landscaped yard. No one was home, so I left a “Notice of Visitation” under the doormat.
Glancing in the window as I turned to leave, I saw a life-sized statue of Mother Mary, laying on its back on a table, as though lying in state. Odd. Perhaps whoever lives there is a religious statue restorer or something. Must be a lot of money in that trade, because the house and grounds were high quality, and that doesn’t come cheap.
Where are all the people?
Then I went back and worked the addresses on my list in the “Housing Development of the Living Dead” nextdoor. Every house painted in the same palette of sombre and bland. Every pebbled cement driveway clean as though with a floor-polisher, no kids’ toys about, no garden implements left out.
If not for a few cars in the driveways, you wouldn’t know anyone lived there at all. Obviously there must be some sort of home owners’ association that forbids personality or signs of life. I lived my first 13 years in the suburbs of Detroit and Buffalo, but those places were filled with kids and all the houses were different. Where are the kids playing outside? Blame it on covid? Or video games? Did the zombies eat them?
Luck of the List
The addresses on our daily census lists were assigned by a computer algorithm, and sometimes we were sent back again to cases where no one had been home previously. I got the beautiful house in the woods with the statue of Mary again on my list a few weeks later.
This time there were lots of people home. The woman said, “I already filled it out online. And then a few weeks ago, I came home to this notice…”
“Yes, that was me,” I said, “I don’t know why it didn’t take online. Sometimes the internet burps between the time you hit send and the time it is supposed to arrive. I don’t know. I’m sorry about that. If you have 10 minutes, we can just do it right here and now and then it will be done for sure.”
She acquiesced graciously and we got the questionnaire done. I complimented her on the beautiful forest they were maintaining. She asked if I wanted to hear the story behind the property, which I did, of course.
Treasure in a Coffee Can
Back a long time ago during the Depression, her great uncle was playing cards in a tavern down on Viking Way. He won the last hand, and the man he was playing against threw down a piece of paper into the pile of poker chips.
“What’s that?” her great uncle asked.
The man answered, “It’s a deed to some land.”
“But I don’t want that!” the great uncle protested.
“Well, that’s what you get,” said the man, and he walked out.
The great uncle took the deed home to his trailer and threw it in a coffee can, where it sat for decades. Sometime in the 1950s, the current landowner’s father, nephew to the poker player, did some legal work for his uncle and sorted out some trouble for him. In thanks, the uncle gave him the deed from the coffee can.
At that time, they were living down in southern California, she said. In 1962, her father tossed the family into the station wagon one summer and set off on a road trip to find this property he had been gifted. And every summer thereafter, the family would drive up to Washington and spend the summer tromping in the forest, sleeping in a tiny log shack and cooking outdoors. It became their family’s wonderful summer tradition, she said.
Eventually, the woman bought the property from her father and decided to build a proper house there. She and her husband & children have lived there ever since. The little log shack is still there, too. And all that family history, right next to the “Housing Development of the Living Dead”.
I never did get around to asking about the statue.
And here’s a little parting music for this story — but be careful, it’s an earworm: