As you may have heard, we bought a house at the beginning of the year. Here is a snippet of what I was thinking back in January…
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The house was a rental for years before we bought it. And the last tenants who lived there before we bought it from their landlord was a couple who were on a Section 8 voucher.
They are an elderly black couple, let’s call them the Johnsons. I don’t really know them – I just have my impressions of them in the few interactions I have had.
Mr. Johnson is a heavy man who feels “led to preach the gospel to every living creature”, which is most often whoever is in his living room. But he is not ashamed of the word he has been given, so he will burst into sermon on the bus, or on his front porch or while watching reruns of MASH on late night TV.
Ms. Johnson is about 70, but looks much older. She’s frail, and uses a walker to go distances greater than a few feet. She has jet black skin, heavily weathered and watery eyes that look eternally sad. She spends much of her time yelling at Mr. Johnson to shut up his preaching.
One recent exchange:
Him: “…the Bible says that everything that has breath should praise the Lord. Therefore, I have preached to all creatures. To the squirrels and the deers, to the dogs and the cats. I have even preached the gospel to the Mo-skito…
Her: Shut that mess up in there! Folk trying to think – they can’t even think with you making such a racket.
Him: Get thee behind me, Satan! I won’t let you hinder me from spreading the word of the Lo…
Her: [Bedroom door slams shut]
So, we closed on the house on the 28th of December, and they were to have moved out on the 31st. But, there was some confusion about the place they were to go next, so when all was said and done, they were unable to move into the new place until the 8th. So, of course, I let them stay in our new house until then.
However, we’re on a timetable around the renovations we are doing, and our own move is pretty much set in stone. So, we had to start renovating the kitchen while they are still living in the house. So, every night, after work, I am going to the new house and either ripping things out of the wall, or putting new things in.
While he preaches to the TV. And she cooks supper on a hot plate in the bedroom. And occasionally, she will shuffle out and watch me run the sander on the walls.
Last night, she leaned against the wall and watched me sand for about 15 minutes.
Her: That smooths out the wall?
Me: Yes ma’am. It does.
Her: I like this new floor ya’ll put down. (We put down bamboo flooring.)
Me: Thank you. I like it too.
Her: I wish we had had floors like that when this was our place. Our floor was ratty.
Me: [Silence. What can you say to that?]
She turns and walks away.
In a few minutes, I’m sitting down, drinking some water and resting, my back against the wall.
“Do you like oranges?”
I look up, and she is handing me a clementine. I take it.
“They are real sweet. And nary a seed in them. My daughter got them for me at the store.”
She watches me peel and section the clementine, and put each piece in my mouth. I haven’t yet had supper, so it is sweet and satisfying in my mouth.
“Isn’t it sweet? I love them,” she says. She looks around the room, boxes stacked up against the wall, Mr. Johnson preaching to Mr. Ed the donkey on the TV, looks back at me, shakes her head and turns and walks back to her room.
As I sit here, it occurs to me that this is the way it has always been for her. A husband who is bordering on insanity, living with uncertainty and chaos. Having to move because a white guy with money wants your house.
Not sure what to do with any of that.