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  • Writer's pictureJenny Waldo

Writing Wednesdays: Character Profile

Trying to capture a real-life woman as a character profile/study for the future:

There is a lady that lives on my street.  I don’t know anything about her except that she is obsessed with her lawn.  Is it possible to understand someone through lawn care?

This woman – I’ll call her Sandy – is a white lady in her late 40s or 50s, with brown hair cut in layers to her chin and curling around her head.  She’s fairly tall, taller than me anyways, and skinny.   She wears T-shirts or tank tops and shorts that look comfortable for working around the house/yard, though I have seen her mow the lawn in a deep-backed bathing suit and shorts when I first moved into the neighborhood.

I pass by her house four times a day as I walk my kids to school and back, every day, Monday through Friday.  Sandy is almost always working on her lawn every time I pass by.   We exchange pleasantries.

I have seen people garden, and by garden I mean “planting flowers and weeding.”  Sandy’s lawn has no flowers.  And I never see her working in the flower bed.  Just on the lawn.

Most days, Sandy’s watering.  By hand.  Hose set to “jet spray” a zig zag stream of water shoots over different parts of the grass.  No soaking, just zig zag, zig zag.  The water makes a satisfactory zipping sound over the blades.  Sometimes, she’s watering the tree beds, which have been shaped into squares.   I’ve never seen square-shaped mulch tree beds.  No brick or stone border, just brown mulch in a perfect square chiseled into the green grass surrounding it.

One time, I saw her wearing a pair of plastic cafeteria-style gloves (see-through, thin, and baggy) while she smoked a cigarette and watered her lawn.

Another time, I saw her edging the grass around the sidewalk and curb with a pair of scissors.  Ordinary, blue-handled, paper-cutting scissors.  She tracked a deep groove against the concrete and yanked up any roots or dirt marring the perfect line.

Occasionally it happens that she’s not working on the lawn, and during those times Sandy throws a tennis ball to one of her dogs.  When not distracted by balls, the dog barks at me when she sees me, waddling toward the sidewalk to defend her territory only.  But when not chasing after balls, the dog is tethered by a long leash that doesn’t let her get that far.  There’s another, equally tethered, dog that is the tiniest little bulldog I’ve ever seen.  The little one is never running after balls.  I think the tennis ball is larger than her head.

Sometimes, Sandy is not outside but sitting on a couch in her garage with the garage door open, watching TV.  This seems to be a southern thing that I don’t fully understand.  Why watch TV in your garage?  It’s freaking hot out here!  The garage, from what I can see as I pass by, is nicely organized and has cabinets and what looks like a little kitchenette.  The woman is so often sitting on that couch, smoking cigarettes, that I wonder if she actually lives in the garage.  I have even seen the garage door light on late at night as I drive by.  The house is huge, so I don’t know why she would.  But I wonder.

There is a man who lives there, I assume her husband, and a teenage boy who rides the little bus to school.  When I walk to pick up my kids in the afternoon, the boy gets off the bus and he and the man ride a yellow scooter around the neighborhood.  I’ve also seen some kiddie toys around like plastic trucks and stuff that I’m not sure belong to a potential grandson, or to the teenager since he rides the little bus.

Sometimes, the garage door is closed, the light is off, and I wonder if no one is home.  Or if they are inside the house.  I wonder what’s inside the house since the garage is such a well-organized living space and the lawn is so carefully manicured.  I imagine it to be completely empty.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I just don’t have enough imagination left for a character who seems so rich and full and quirky in her garage.

Recently, Sandy began decorating the lawn for Halloween.  And like her lawn, Sandy takes it seriously.  Skeleton parts emerging out of their graves in the grass, tombstones behind their heads.  String hung between the trees with cages containing ghosts, witches, and ghouls that threaten from above.  An enormous spider and its web dangle near the front door along with a dementor/banshee and other Halloween spooks.

My first thought walking by the decorations was the panic of how Sandy would maintain her perfectly coifed lawn with all these obstacles in her way.  How annoying to trim around skulls and femurs, fences and tombstones!  I didn’t see how she did it, but one day I walked past and the Halloween fenceposts where lying against the grass but everything else looked undisturbed and the grass was freshly clipped.  It didn’t look hand cut but mowed.  Did she pull everything up only to restake it down all over again?  My brain twisted at the conundrum.  I want to know!  I want to ask!

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