Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Houses

A perfect sunrise appears over the vast expanse of trees through the huge windows of my well-appointed temporary bedroom. I consider the trajectory of the project to this point and wonder where it will take me. The little house in East Austin was really the first taste I have had of living in an extremely poor neighborhood. In fact, until I had come to this house in the wealthy part of the city, I was wondering why everyone said Austin was so beautiful. Until this point, I had seen nothing but endless strip malls and strangely planned city streets. Just the day before I was sitting at an abused table in a crowded living room in East Austin, sharing cookies and tea with one of the neighbor ladies, hearing about all of the news of the neighborhood.

"Momma" steps up through the steep entryway and in to the cramped, humid living room wearing a purple cotton house dress. She sits down at the table, a beat up old wooden four-seater that has been crammed into the room crowded by various musical instruments and other random furniture.  She introduces herself to me, and Bruce brings out tea and cookies. He pushes papers and other random objects out of the way to make room for the impromptu tea party.  He starts telling her all about his work and his projects. He wants her to be impressed with him, to be proud.

I am antsy. I want to hear what she has to say. I sit, listen and drink tea, occasionally eating sugar cookies out of a tin which has been doubling as a pot container of late, and the cookies taste of it. Every time Momma starts talking, Bruce brings the subject back to himself. Of course, this is not an interview, this is a conversation. I just happen to be more interested in what Momma has to say.

When Momma starts talking, it is a continuous tale of who was stopped by the police for what reason, what has been stolen from whom, and the story of how she and Mr. Woods, or, Woods, as she calls him, came to be married. He told her when they first met that they would be married in three years. Three years later, he reminded her of that fact. It was two weeks after their wedding day.

When she brings up the recent shooting of a young black man in a car downtown, Bruce reminds her that cars are lethal weapons. She responds firmly that she is not arguing the case, just reporting on the news. Bruce will not give up his perspective, not even for Momma.

At a certain point, Bruce goes out back and I ask Momma if she likes living in Austin. She shakes her head no, and when I ask her where she would rather live, she responds, "Atlanta. In Atlanta, there is not so much of this pushing people around. People there can just be. It doesn't matter if you are educated or not, there is an acceptance of people no matter who they are or where they are from." 

I ask her why she doesn't live there, and she tells me that one of her sons several years before had moved there and called her when he was close to finishing school, telling her that he was planning on staying in Atlanta. He told her that he just couldn't bring himself to go back to Texas. She told him to save her a seat, that she would come and join him. A few weeks later he was hit by a car while pulled over on the side of a highway and died.

The house is airy and open and cool and I have chosen my room from the three offered, the one with the big windows facing east. Dave has saved the UT game on his DVR and commences watching after he gets me a beer from the fridge. Once it becomes clear that UT will lose, we all sit down to dinner.  Their daughter, Erika and her husband Andy are also there. They had been at the stadium watching the game.

Dinner is lively. Dave says a prayer for dinner in honor of his "mid-western friend", me. In honor of me mainly because it is short and he believes I do not have the patience for anything longer. As we eat, we talk football, politics, taxes, and about the Occupy movement sweeping the nation. We all agree that too many kids grew up getting trophies for losing soccer games.

 Erika tells me about a high-end market place called The Domain that she thinks I should go to. When you love The Domain, they call it "Domania". Andy tells me about the seven surgeries he has had due to playing college football, and about coaching high school football in the great state of Texas. He has decided not to coach at the college level as that would leave little time for family.  Erika and Andy are a good looking couple. I imagine they are as good looking as Dave and Cynthia were when they were young.

After dinner, we all sit down and watch more football. We eat home made brownies with Blue Bell, the best vanilla ice cream in Texas. Dave gives Andy a hard time about his teams, and Andy gives it back. A beer commercial comes on TV and Andy wants one.

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