A couple of fat file folders lie open. One is full of photocopies of checks representing fully 80% of the residents on our road, a record. The actual checks are in a safety deposit box at a bank, Edeltraut explains to us, and won’t be used until the day of the actual work, which has been postponed twice now because of busted equipment and then wet weather. Edeltraut and her husband, as the new Annual Road Repair People (ARRP), are arranging it all and are sharing the info with the Bearded One and me, the Pothole People.
Edeltraut’s kitchen table is large and round and a fine dark wood. There are four matching cloth placemats and napkins, and four coffee mugs — matching mugs for the girls and a different set for the boys — and a plate of cookies in the middle.
“Haf a snickerdoodle!” says Edeltraut as she refills my empty mug. The Bearded One and I have been here for half an hour and I’ve drunk most of his coffee, too. It’s really good, and he’s not much of a coffee drinker.
“Otherwise I’ll eat ’em all,” says Edeltraut’s husband. He laughs and I notice how he has expertly complimented Edeltraut, something every woman appreciates. I’m getting to know this nearly 80-year-old retired engineer and current ’65 Mustang refurbisher better today. He was born to community involvement, and has experienced decades of it. Edeltraut scolds him and her brown eyes twinkle. He’s still her Mustang Man, I think.
The other file is full of historical correspondence and is currently open to a letter with the list of the poor souls, just half of the 25 total households on the road, unlucky enough to have a badly written road maintenance agreement in their deed paperwork, making them “official” and “legal” and “responsible”. Neither of us is on the list, but we’re trying to ignore that it even exists.
“Rules you have to enforce, votes for every little thing,” Mustang Man says, shaking his head. “At our old house, the Homeowner’s Association was responsible and ended up having to hire an administrator! And then at our condo, one lady demanded an expensive new roof and got the people from her church to vote with her! These groups are just little governments.”
Now that national politics has calmed down, our road politics has picked up a bit again, but Mustang Man actually smoothed it out. Turns out he went to high school sixty years ago with the neighbor raising questions about how the funds are being handled. Mustang Man was able to establish a measure of trust.
As Edeltraut puts the coffee pot back, I see the jam and eggs we brought for them sitting on her counter. Two of those eggs are fresh out of the nest this morning. The egg carton is one Mustang Man returned to us yesterday. This is what community feels like, I think. It’s actually sitting in kitchens. Separate kitchens.
“I’m with Emerson,” I say, “you know, Ralph Waldo?”
“I knew him in high school,” Mustang Man says and smiles, and I laugh so hard I choke a little and forget my point.
“Emerson,” the Bearded One says, and I nod. Oh yeah.
“Emerson was that Transcendentalist writer, back in the 1840’s? He hung out with Louisa May Alcott’s father and Henry Thoreau and knew all about communes, but he wouldn’t live in one.
“Too many work charts. Too many rules. He said he preferred neighborhoods. Neighborhoods without groups. Different volunteers do what needs to be done.”
“Yes,” says Edeltraut, “vee also believe in neighborhoods, not communes.”
“We do the potholes,” the Bearded One says, biting his last snickerdoodle. “That’s it.”
Mustard Man nods and says, “And we’ll coordinate the annual maintenance. That’s it.”
Other families have organized pruning parties to reclaim the road from the endless thicket. In the spring, the alder’s green tips sem to shoot out inches per day. The road shrinks.
We get up to leave — Mustang Man has to make a new sign letting everyone know about the new round of delay. On our way out, Edeltraut shows me her little room where she reads and meditates. She has a small altar with a candle against one wall. It’s beautiful.
“How’s your daughter doing?” I ask, referring to a now successful but long job hunt and grueling school hours for her daughter, who is roughly my age.
“Goot,” says Edeltraut, but she grimaces meaning she thinks her daughter is just barely doing goot. “I haf been praying so hard for her!”
“Well, she got a good job,” I say as we step off the front porch. “You must have a good connection.”
“I went to school with Him, too!” Mustang Man calls out from a distance, and Edeltraut covers her mouth and laughs.