The big bay window of the kitchen gave my grandparents the perfect perch from which to spy on the neighborhood. As the sun went down and they finished the last of their pork shanks and sauerkraut, they would sit with the lights out and watch. “Mr. Durr’s home from work late again.” “Those Gitter kids don’t do a very good job at mowing the lawn.” “The Westphal’s need new shingles on their garage roof.”
Grandma and Grandpa’s house was on the corner at the top of a hill. We lived next door. There were always eyes on us. One Sunday morning, grandma invited us over for breakfast. My sister shrieked with joy when she spotted her missing doll sitting in a blue and green flowered vinyl kitchen chair. Mary Jo made a bee line for the doll but Grandma stopped her in her tracks. “Oh no. That’s my doll. Some irresponsible little girl left her out in the cold and rain and now she’s my doll.” And Grandma meant it.
My brother Joe, who always played that he was working, would move piles of bricks in a wagon from a spot in our back yard to a spot in my grandparents front yard and back again. Grandpa supervised from the kitchen window.
As a hormone fueled teenager, I snuck my boyfriend into the garage for a french kissing lesson. We’d just settled into a cozy spot in the corner on top of a paint tarp when the door flew open and the light clicked on. “Boy you better go home now,” was all she said. She was also clearly the “anonymous source” who reported me for rolling my skirt up way above my knees on my way to school and for smoking cigarets in the alley.
Eventually, I learned to watch for signs. The glow of the ash from Grandpa’s cigar. The rhythmic thumping of finger nails on the formica kitchen table. The squeak of the swivel chairs. I learned to be a spy too.
And when my own grandsons walked home from school by themselves for the very first time, my husband and I were there. With our car camouflaged by a thicket of bushes a half block away, our eyes were on them.