The little old lady with the walker, gray Bears sweatshirt and small golden cross stood in front of a house drawn by an untalented child.
The house was small, drab, brick. It lacked the spires and perfectly crested cupolas of its neighbors. There were no balusters, belvederes, board-and-battens. There were no Chateauesque neo-Tudor neo-Queen Anne poly-pseudo-Gothic ornamental dreck as on the brand-spanking, Pella-sticker-on-the-tasteful-Palladian-Window-Bay-having castles that towered well into the trees on one of the greener neighborhoods in town.
This house was a triangle on top of a rectangle with a little old lady in the yard.
“It’s like a little garage between them,” the woman said, laughing.
The fad in housing in certain tasteful stretches of Chicago’s North Side is to buy up old homes and tear them down just for the lot. Bungalows, rowhouses and old-school Chicago two-flats make way for massive single-unit mishmashes of between one and 18 Americana-bleeding architectural styles to slap the world with the dual notions that the resident is both insanely wealthy and possibly a novelist.
They’re houses designed by architects who once had Norman Rockwell described to them.
And they take up the entire lot. Some of the more onerous owners buy up two lots just to thwack their mega-Rockwell into every square inch not sidewalk.
“They don’t have backyards. I have a big backyard. They have patios,” said the little old lady with the triangle-on-square bungalow, rolling her eyes at the last word, pronouncing it like something dreadful. “They’ve got little areas out there for cooking.”
“But I never see them cooking,” she added, giving a little smile.
The little old lady with the walker and Bears sweatshirt raised six children in that little house surrounded by green. She has lived in the now-flanked bungalow for 60 years. Her children ran in the yard and skinned their knees, chased each other in, on, around on warm summer days.
Her neighbors’ children never make it outside, even onto the patio.
“They have all that stuff inside” (she pronounced stuff as hatefully as patio) “so they don’t use it. The father works and the mother works and they have nannies raising the kids. It’s a whole new deal.”
She shook her head softly at that, in that way tough old ladies do. Sad but judgmental. Sympathetic to the family too rich to have time for each other, but not taking their shit all the same.
In a few moments, her pleasantly stout middle-aged daughter would walk up with a dog. That’s why she had been standing in her yard waiting. In a few moments, she would wave and smile as I would bid my adieu to continue walking one of the greener slips of Chicago.
“But you know what?” she said before all that went down. “I was here first.”