One of Granny Hat’s friends told her the other day that her favorite silver lining to this awful pandemic is the sound of the neighbors laughing and playing in their back yards. Everyone is sheltering in place and greeting one another over the back fence. Just one month ago this Silicon bedroom community near Granny’s home would open daily before the crack of dawn to spit out the commuters with their lap tops and coffee mugs. Away they would fly to beat the sun and traffic, leaving a ghost town behind. A month ago they were just the career folks across the street, now they have voices, personalities, faces.
Granny’s favorite actor of all time would have to be Jimmy Stewart (Tom Hanks, she loves you too). Maybe it is because Jimmy’s accent was so very like her Grandpa Lloyd’s, who hailed from Boston. But also because Stewart played so many noble, endearing characters. What could be more inspiring than Mr. Smith’s filibuster marathon on the Senate Floor or more thought- provoking than his courtly friendship with Harvey, the pookah? And, of course, everyone loves the way Clarence got his wings!
But one of her very favorite Stewart characters is L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, often ranked as one of the director’s best pieces and listed in the greatest films of all time. Jeff is a professional photographer confined to a wheel chair in his second story Chelsea flat while he recovers from a broken leg. Without Zoom or Netflix, the only relief in the man’s boring quarantine is to gaze out his rear window, across the courtyard below and observe his neighbors who have been driven out into the fresh air by a dreadful heat wave. His curiosity gets the better of him as his eye for detail and an active imagination bring his neighbors to life. There is the flamboyant dancer, a single sunbather he nicknames Miss Lonely-hearts, a talented composer-pianist, a married couple who lowers their little dog in a basket from their balcony to the courtyard to play and a sinister looking traveling salesman with an invalid wife. As Jeff watches one evening he unwittingly witness what he thinks…….could be……a brutal murder! Granny won’t give any more away than that.
Many of us have an inner sleuth just longing to be set free; we’d love to play Nancy Drew or Columbo. Indeed, Granny Hat has been an arm chair detective for years, looking out her rear window.
It all started on “D” Street in Grants Pass, Oregon when she was very young. Granny’s mom returned from the corner health food store (you remember, the type of shop that smelled strongly of Vitamin B12 and Brewer’s Yeast) talking about the “new carrot juicing trend”.
“I mean, this juicing business makes sense”, she declared to Granny’s father, “but I did notice that the owner and his whole family are orange, literally Phil, they are ORANGE and I’ll bet it’s because of the carrot juice!” Four year old Granny was horrified; she hadn’t heard of Oompa Loompas yet but she really wanted to see the orange people! She gazed out her window for weeks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the carrot family walking past. She even tried the rear window in case they strolled home through the alley.
Then, as a teenager, in Orange County, CA Granny remembers the bad boys that lived behind, over the fence. These hoodlums cussed and drank and smoked and loudly used the Lord’s name in vain. When the family dog was poisoned and burglars broke into the house, stealing mother’s wedding ring and the stereo with Granny’s Carpenters record in it, she was 100% positive that those bad boys were to blame. Granny and her brothers and sister began spying through knot holes in the fence since they couldn’t get a good enough view from their rear window.
Even as an adult, Granny can look out her rear window and see things (mostly walnut trees). But every now and then the crazy neighbor emerges from his back door dragging a dining room chair into the field. He sits for hours with a shotgun over his knees staring at the ground and waiting for a gopher to surface. BLAM!!! goes the shotgun, then more waiting. Granny can bake a whole batch of bread, clean house, teach a couple of piano students on FaceTime and sure enough, just a glance out her rear window and he’s still there! On the surface of it, he seems harmless and straightforward enough, he has an American right to bear arms and kill vermin but what else is the guy up to? Granny thinks anyone with that kind of time to kill has got something or other up his sleeve.
Before she judges the neighbor completely however, Granny remembers being on the other side of the fence when she and Dad first moved into the orchard house one spring in the 80’s. The neighbors were far away and even more distant socially, they didn’t even wave when they drove by. It wasn’t until fall when Granny’s family was out harvesting walnuts that the neighbors slowed down and rolled down their windows.
“Where is Clark? Did Clark move?” they asked. Granny’s kids were all ears, what a cryptic question – Where is Clark? Then they introduced themselves as the Pereiras, Joe, Lillian and the girls, the best neighbors a family could ask for. Turns out, Clark was a scoundrel whose bar down the street went broke, so he moved his gaming and drinking onto the property. There were shoot outs, drunken orgies, get away skids into the Pereira field at midnight only to sink in the mud and then honk the horn until rescue came in the form of a sleepy farmer on his tractor. No wonder the neighbors shut their doors, turned away and only glanced out their rear window to keep their eye on Clark! Granny’s kids and the neighbor girl played spy games for years using the nefarious Clark as their nemesis. Clark was never found.
Granny Hat’s daughter has been living the rear window life for nearly 4 years in a very large city. Her apartment flat is 3 stories up in a tall tower with front doors that open onto dark hallways. Her only view is out the rear balcony window and across the street to yet another tower of identical apartments. Granny has visited several times and has never ever spotted people on the balconies; there are potted plants, a bicycle or two, a lonely chair, but never even a face. Most of the year it is too hot and the rest of the time the inhabitants are too busy. This neighborhood that houses hundreds of people is very quiet; the only sounds are the parking garage gates going up and down.
But these past few weeks, Granny’s daughter says the neighborhood has come alive, couples on the balconies, kids out walking the dog, folks waving and smiling. One elderly couple sits out on their balcony each day for about an hour of fresh air and sunshine, but in separate shifts – perhaps the secret to long-term marital bliss! She spied another elderly couple standing on their balcony to greet their grandkids below on the street; the old gentleman was teary eyed because he couldn’t hug them. At the end of the road there is a grassy parkway lining a canal that separates the apartments from a silent, sprawling urban mall. Granny Hat’s grand kids can spy children on the lawn blowing bubbles and Yogis out in the cool evenings. (Not Yogi Bear, people doing Yoga, Granny had to clarify. The only animals out at the canal are ducks and iguanas – Granny doesn’t go down to the canal when she visits.) Check out the brilliant blog that had its beginnings at this rear window: Our Holistic Homeschool Day 11: How to have a HOPPING INDOOR EASTER that your family will never forget!
Granny Hat has been thinking that we become connected to our neighbors when we share a smile and a wave, when we look in their eyes and recognize who they really are. A body can only watch the pundits and experts talk on the screen for so long and then it becomes imperative to bust out through the rear window and shout “Here I am!” and “Who are you?” Finally, we NEED to know, it is what makes us human.
Granny Hat hopes her readers will never witness anything like a murder out the rear window, unless it’s just a gopher that bites the dust. Don’t just watch from the rear window though, open it to the wind and the sun; Granny guarantees her readers will hear laughter, maybe some tears, and definitely see a way to offer help and hope to the neighbors. It is easy and very safe to sit by the rear window and peek out. But if every front door opened wide, the hall would not be so dark.
All around the neighborhood, I’m gonna let it shine!
Reader, if you haven’t seen this classic film, now is the time while you are sheltering in place! Make some popcorn, snuggle up with loved ones in case you get scared and let your imagination run away with you.
And to quote Elwood P. Dowd from Harvey: “Very soon the faces of all the other people turn towards me and they smile. They say: ‘We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.’ Harvey and I warm ourselves in these golden moments. We came as strangers – soon we have friends. They come over. They sit with us. They drink with us. They talk to us. They tell us about the great big terrible things they’ve done and the great big wonderful things they’re going to do. Their hopes, their regrets. Their loves, their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar.