On Monday mornings, I deliver meals to senior citizens around the area. My route switches from week to week. Sometimes I deliver meals to the side of Menlo Park closer to campus. Sometimes it’s the other side of Menlo Park, the one that begins when you cross 101, sometimes it’s Redwood City. You notice the obvious disparities: The lawns in certain neighborhoods are greener, the cars are newer, the streets are better paved. You notice it when you step into the home, but not always. There is a common look to the living rooms of clients: It is a menagerie of things you imagine they have collected over the span of their life and haven’t the hard to dispose of. It reminds me of the glass cabinet my grandma kept. Inside were these tiny glass animals and porcelain pill boxes, nothing special, just the kinds of things that turn up in yard sales. But the affection for these few objects was clear. She put them in that glass display to dazzle the easily enchanted eyes of kids like me.
You can tell a lot by a person’s things. I learned this because sometimes you knock or ring the doorbell, and no one answers, so you step quietly inside, say “hello” and tiptoe into the kitchen and put the meal in the fridge. The elderly tend to have objects like my grandma did, tchotchkes that they’ve transformed into little treasures. Books they may never read. A TV set. A velvety brown couch. I stepped in one home and heard country music playing; there were Virgin Marys and one of those hokey country outlaw photographs you take at the county fair. On the door of another house was a Giants tapestry inside a Grateful Dead head. Are you a Deadhead? I asked the woman. I knew Jerry! she said.
Photos of grandchildren. Dishes in the sink. Wedding photos. Sometimes it’s not them who answer the door, but their grown kids. In a rough neighborhood, a shirtless man opened the screen door. Tattoos, do-rag. “Ma,” he said, cheerfully. “Your meal’s here!” Sometime the kids answer the door, sometimes they’re just weaving past you. You wonder whose home is it; with others, you wonder if anyone pays them a visit.
Sometimes I am afraid of getting old. But other times, when I’m stepping up a porch and I look around. There’s a vine of roses clinging to the pole, a few little clay frogs here and there, a mail slot. Everything’s real quiet. The only thing missing is a wind chime. You consider all of this for a second. Maybe by then, when you’re old and gray, you’ll find a porch like this, sit, and it’ll all feel real peaceful inside.