A Peek in the Windows
When the Row Houses were built, which was more than fifty years before Min was born, they were some of the grandest homes in Camden Falls. Each was three stories high, topped off by an attic accessible by a ladder that dropped down into a hallway below. On the first floor were a large kitchen, a butler's pantry, a dining room, and a living room. On the second floor were four bedrooms. And on the third floor were several smaller rooms, the sleeping quarters for maids. In 1882, the wealthy people who lived in the Row Houses all had maids who slept in the maids' quarters, and butlers who used the butlers' pantries. But now, 125 years later, while the Row Houses were still grand, the people who lived in them did not have maids and butlers, or chauffeurs and gardeners, for that matter. Many of the butlers' pantries had been turned into breakfast nooks or mudrooms, and the rooms in the maids' quarters were nurseries or playrooms or offices or dens or guest rooms. The backyards, which once boasted formal gardens, were now cluttered with basketball hoops and vegetable plots, jungle gyms and storage sheds and swing sets. Even Min's yard, with her carefully tended flower beds, was home to a tire swing and a tree fort that Flora and Ruby's mother had played with when she was their age. The twelve children who lived in the Row Houses these days (twelve if you counted Lydia, Margaret, and Robby, who were teenagers and did not consider themselves children) ran freely through the eight yards and in and out of the houses, comfortable with each of their neighbors, old and young.
Now, if you were walking north along Aiken Avenue and came to the Row Houses on a warm Sunday evening in June, you would find most of the windows open to let in the summer air. And if you paused on the sidewalk, you might be able to take a peek in the windows and glimpse the lives of the people inside. In the house on the left end, you would find the Morris family, Elise and Paul, their four children, Lacey, Mathias, Travis, and Alyssa, and their hamsters and guinea pig. Supper is long over — the Morrises eat early — and Alyssa and Travis are already in their pajamas. Mrs. Morris is commenting to her husband that the children are growing up so fast. This fall Alyssa, who's the youngest, will be in all-day preschool, and what will Mrs. Morris do with herself while the children are gone?
In the next house you would find Bill and Mary Lou Willet. They're nearly seventy-eight years old, both of them. Their birthdays are just a week apart in August. Mr. Willet is encouraging his wife to change out of her clothes and into her nightgown, but she won't. She's been wearing these same clothes for four days and four nights now, and Mr. Willet can't convince her to put on anything else. He can't convince her to take a shower, either, or to comb her hair or take her pills or brush her teeth.
"Come on, honey," he says. "You'll feel so much better in a nice clean nightgown. Trust me."
But his wife, who's patting their cat, Sweetie, replies, "You know, my sister was here again today and we had such a pleasant conversation."
Mrs. Willet's sister has been dead for more than twenty years.
Next door to the Willets are the Malones. There's Margaret, sixteen now, drinking tea with her father, Dr. Malone, the dentist. They're sitting at the kitchen table, their cats, Twinkle and Bandit, nearby, and Dr. Malone is laughing at something Margaret has said. Upstairs, Lydia, who's fourteen, has shut herself in her bedroom and is sitting before her computer, instant messaging her friends. When her father calls upstairs to her, she ignores him.
The house to the north of the Malones' is Min's. She was born in that house — she was Mindy Davis then — and has lived there for most of her life, first as a child with her parents and her brother and sister, later as a wife and mother, and now as a grandmother. On this evening, Min, Flora, Ruby, Daisy Dear, and King Comma are in the kitchen and Min is making dinner. Daisy and King are lying on the floor just inches apart, and this is one of the first times they have been so close to each other without growling.
"They're finally getting along," Ruby whispers, not wanting to break the spell. Then she adds, still whispering, "Min, is there a dance school in Camden Falls?"
Next door in Olivia's house, Mr. Walter closes up his home office on the third floor and leaves his computer and papers behind. He finds Olivia, her younger brothers, Henry and Jack, and his wife playing Clue on the living room floor. Olivia looks up when her father enters the room and thinks he looks not only tired but discouraged.
In the next house is Mr. Pennington. He's eighty-two years old, and Jacques, his cocker spaniel, is nearly as old in dog years. Mr. Pennington is peering in Jacques's food dish, seeing lots of kibble there and trying to remember if it's old kibble or new kibble.
In the seventh house, the house belonging to the Edwards family, Robby and his parents are lingering over dessert, and Robby is talking about his beloved day camp.
"When does it start, Mom?" he asks.
"In two weeks," replies his mother.
Robby is grinning. "Swimming in the pool!" he says. "Basketball, nature walks, arts and crafts, swimming in the pool, snacktime when we make our own snacks. That's what I like best. Making our own snacks. Except for swimming in the pool."
In the last house, the one at the right end, live Mr. and Mrs. Fong, artists who make furniture and jewelry. They have a studio in town, where they work and sell their pieces. At home they have turned the small rooms on the third floor into a second studio, and this evening they are there, working side by side, their puppies resting in the doorway.
Now walk back to the fourth house, to Min's, and take one last peek in the windows. Min is almost finished making dinner, and Flora is tossing a salad. It's Ruby's job to set the table.
"Let's use the good china," says Ruby. "I know where it is. We can have a fancy dinner tonight."
You would never guess, from a quick peek in Min's window, that she and Ruby and Flora have been a family for just five months.
From MAIN STREET #1: WELCOME TO CAMDEN FALLS by Ann M. Martin. Scholastic Inc./Scholastic Paperbacks. Copyright (c) 2007 by Ann M. Martin. Reprinted by permission.