It was an early autumn sunday. Delia and I walked to mass at eleven o’clock, and walked back home. Then we got out the car and drove to the station to get a roasted chicken.
But this story begins several months before the sunday in point, back in the late winter.
It was at that time Delia decided to put in some sort of tree—I think perhaps it is called an italian cypress, but perhaps not; I don’t know one tree from another—she decided to have ten of these trees in front of the house. Now the house sits directly on the sidewalk. Then there is a strip of earth about three feet wide between sidewalk and curb. So the trees were to go in that strip, which would then be concreted over except for a square opening for each tree.
Whatever kind of tree it was, it takes it some years to develop enough root to reach water, so it is necessary to water the young trees several times a week. To facilitate this I put in a simple irrigation system—a pipe running the length of the house, with a tee and riser and adjustable cap to water each tree. And an electric valve with timer to turn on the water late each night.
Simple, but not easy. I dug the trench, about 100 foot long, with pick and shovel, in what used to be a cobblestone street. It took three long afternoons. There was also a six foot wide apron in front of the main door that had to be tunneled under, which took another full afternoon, thanks to a big rock in the way. And just to keep it from being too simple, we decided to throw in hydrants, requiring a separate pipe from the irrigators, and electric receptacles, in case once a year we might need to use a power tool out there.
We also had a canasta [basket] for basura [garbage] put in at one end. A garbage basket is a box about two foot square and a foot high, made of a steel framework and expanded metal sides. It stands on a single center post about four feet off the ground so as to be out of the reach of dogs. Garbage in plastic bags is deposited in the basket, whence the garbage crew picks it up once a week.
At length the system was finished. After we watched it work for a couple of weeks to be sure it was right we called the concrete man, who covered over everything except the trees and controls, leaving the hydrants and receptacles, at each end, sticking through the concrete.
And that is all that happened until we went for the chicken. When we returned, as we approached, we both first saw that one of the trees was broken down. And as we grasped this, we saw that a receptacle and hydrant were bent down to the ground, the valves and controls were shattered, and the canasta was a tangle of metal forty feet from where it used to be.
A walk to the police station, just down the street, put us in touch with the investigating officer, who told us just wait right there, he would bring the responsible party. And after a short walk in the other direction, he returned with her.
She was a lady named Laura, and she had something of a reputation for being careless. Not on purpose. She’s just one of those poor folks who seem to be accident prone. She was driving up the street in the family pickup, craning her head around to check on her son riding in the box. Not watching where she was going, she soon found herself driving down our sidewalk.
She and Delia talked there in front of the police station for maybe fifteen minutes, as the officer and I quietly stood by. Laura said she was at fault and her husband would take care of everything. At one point she was near tears, and Delia held her and kissed her and told her everything would be all right. And after rehashing things three or four times, with some digressions, they finished their conference.
Next morning, bright and early, here were her husband and five of his buddies ready to work. They brought all the tools they needed and bought necessary parts and a new italian cypress, a new canasta, and a new box to cover valves and controls. They started by breaking up the concrete where the hydrant and receptacle had been destroyed, and then patiently rebuilt everything, under my supervision as only I knew how things had been to start with. They finished all but the concrete, which we delayed to give any small leaks time to show up. Then they returned in a few days for the concrete work. Nine days after the accident all was back to normal.
Laura almost certainly got a traffic ticket. Other than that, nothing of this incident was ever written down. No one sued or threatened to sue. No one blustered, no one denied anything. No cross word was spoken. No money ever changed hands. All dealings were simple and straightforward. Laura had run over our trees and equipment; she was responsible for restoring things to their original condition; and she did. Nine days after the accident all was back to normal.
Now I am pretty sure that the property line falls at the front wall of the house. If I’m right about this, then the trees, pipes, and other stuff were installed on the municipal right of way, and therefore would have been out of Delia’s control. And also beyond her reach to demand restoration. And the other party could have raised that point, and could have denied that Delia had any right to recover.
But they didn’t. They, and all the other neighbors, had seen us put in the trees and the pipes and the canasta. No matter what the letter of the law might say, common sense said that work was ours. So they did the common sense thing, and repaired it. Nine days after the accident all was back to normal.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield