All we thought we were doing was making the approach to our home safer and more welcoming for visitors.
The three concrete steps between the street and our front yard were already starting to crumble when we moved in, five years ago. At the top of the short flight, a concrete path curved right, towards the wooden stairs to the porch, and left, to the side of the house, the service entry into the basement and the gate to the backyard. That path was pitted and decayed, half-covered with grass and weeds, precarious to navigate and difficult to shovel.
Weeds grew in the steps’ crevices and cracks, and over the sides, where our lawnmower wouldn’t reach and we were too lazy to cut by hand. Every spring, when the snow melted, another chunk of steps was gone.
When visitors went home at night, we would watch anxiously until they were safely out in the street. Friends who were particularly unsteady on their feet we would direct away from the stairs, down the grassy slope.
Only one person seemed to like those crumbly concrete stairs.
The kid who lives across the street from us – the only child on our short block – is a genius at entertaining himself. He can spend hours pedaling one of his many vehicles up and down the dead end, his eyes focused on some imagined vision, his lips silently narrating some.. whatever. Add puddles to the pavement or introduce a new bump, and he’ll explore and redefine the altered landscape all afternoon. When he’s not pedaling back and forth, our neighbor will sometimes sit on our steps with his buddy, their heads bent towards each other, quietly discussing…something.
At least, he used to do that.
When the contractors arrived with their jackhammer and their sledge hammer, and started breaking the old steps apart and tossing the pieces into the back of their truck, our young neighbor watched quietly. I thought he was just fascinated by the process, as kids will be. And as I was. I thought he was simply impressed, as I was, that something as seemingly solid as concrete could be so easily reduced to rubble.
The old steps disappeared into the back of the truck, along with the hammered-apart pieces of the old path. Out of the back of another truck came the three granite slabs and the pile of bricks that would become our new steps and smooth path.
I’m starting to think about what to plant at the sides of the granite steps and on the border of the brick path. I’m looking forward to easier shoveling this winter, and less worrisome farewells the next time friends come over.
Our next-door neighbors have told us they like it, and so have the couple across the street. I haven’t seen or heard from their son. But today, his mom, after saying the steps look good, told me he was disappointed.
“But what about our game?” he’d asked her.
“You can still play on the new steps,” she told him.
“But the old steps had certain … cracks,” he said.
His mom laughed as she told the story, but I felt a little bad. And now I can’t help but wonder about the invisible world I destroyed.
Where the Sidewalk Ends
by Shel Silverstein
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.