The sisters that lived together: Another Smith Place Story
If you looked from the turn-about that abutted the decaying lumber yard that connected Smith Place to Leigh Court toward Orange Avenue, the even numbered Smith Places houses were on your left and the odd numbered ones were on the right.
All the families with kids lived on the even numbered side of the street and only one family with a son lived on the odd numbered side of the street. We hardly saw the kid who lived in the odd numbered house. The kid would wave to us as he was coming out of the house, but his Dad made clear that his son was not going to be playing with the likes of us.
Except for Payton, Roy and Roberta, the Arkie family (Sharona, Grandpa, Grandma, and their family’s two kids), and the Harris family with their eight kids, most of the others on Smith Place put up with us, until we came close to their yards and then they just became down right mean.
Most of the houses on Smith Place were well cared for. Neighbors mowed their lawns or would pay the Harris kids to push the old spinner manual mower through the small patches of grass in the front two square areas of the California bungalows that lined both sides of Smith Place.
That’s why I was surprised that the sisters lived on the even side of Smith Place. Because the sisters paid no attention to kids and constantly shooed us away from the front of their house. Until that day when I was not shooed away.
The sisters had a lawn like no others. Most of the other lawns were seeded with thick bladed grass from long ago that grew with barren patches that tried to overrun the green patches with yellow crab grass tentacles that embedded deep, and you could never get out. But not the sisters’ lawn.
The sisters’ lawn was pristine: wispy bladed thin deep green turning lighter at the edges grass. Grass you see on exclusive lawn bowling rinks or on modern day Manchester United Premier football league pitches, but certainly not on Smith Place.
The grass was thick but playful in the wind because the sisters protected their grass. Their front yard was the only one on the even side of Smith Place to have a beautiful wire cyclone fence with a locked front fence door to ensure that when they were away no one could come to the front door.
Their lawn grass grew no more than two inches above the dirt floor and the sisters dutifully trimmed it to about an inch all the way around. Like a kid who goes to the barber and his dad tells the barber to give him a number two and the plastic guide on the electric razor buzzes to a nice even finish, which some referred to as a regular boy’s cut.
It was not just the sisters’ grass that was immaculately maintained. They paid to have the cheap large rock sidewalk the city thought was all that was needed at Smith Place replaced with a smooth Zamboni finished hocky ice rink pathway. Kids that could afford skateboards loved feeling their wheels touch the sisters’ fine smooth sidewalk.
The sisters, of course, hated the kids ruining their private path and Clara, the bigger of the two sisters would come out holding a broom to sweep the kids away. The kids were usually able to skate away, leaving Clara’s yelling in their wake.
The exterior to the sister’s home was painted a stark white with a blue turquoise trim that ribbon tied the house along its roof top. The window frames the same precise paint palette. They had built a beautiful car port with a plastic ruffled yellow roof that protected their beautiful car from the sun and heat. The six ten-foot timbers that supported the car port were painted the same stark white, the white you see on Greek seaside homes. The trim matched the ribbon around the house.
Their car was something to behold. Convertible turquoise blue with a white top that matched the house’s colors:
And if the sisters hated anyone skateboarding on their sidewalk, they truly despised anyone who dared touch their car. They washed the car every Saturday when the sun was out and every couple of months, they used a portable drill with cotton buffers to revitalize the wax shine. Mr. Harris loved the car and he used to say: if there is a car to take you to heaven, the sisters have it in their yard.
One day one of the sisters, the one whose name I heard as Care the first time but whose real was Claire, saw me watching her wash the car. She motioned me over and asked if I wanted to help her dry and wax the car. I rushed over before she changed her mind or other kids came out and she asked them instead. For some reason all the kids stayed indoors that day and I was the only one hanging outside for Claire to find.
She directed me to the fold out strap chair, with its matching turquoise and white straps, which matched, as you would expect, the car and the exterior of the house. Claire talked to me calmly as you would a friend when you are just sharing stories and not getting to each other face. Claire told me to bring over the towels that she had placed there. She showed me carefully how to softly start drying the car.
Claire to me: Remember soft and light. Let the towel drink the water. Don’t push down on the body of the car. Let the water come to you. I pat dried the water from the car, and I changed towels often as directed by Claire. I never felt towels this soft or as clean. When I washed my Dad’s car, we used old beat-up towels, torn underwear, and newspapers. Treating a car like a newborn was something I enjoyed. This is probably why sometimes people with no kids treat their cars like others fawn on the kids they cherish.
Claire asked me about school and what I liked to do, and we talked without looking at each other. Neither one of us wanting to take our eyes off the car we were caressing. She saw how much I liked the car and she started to tell me about engine size, transmission power, suspension tolerances and other things that sounded like the school math I could never understand. I listened attentively, more than at school, because coming from her mouth the information sounded like someone telling you about something they love.
As we prepared to wax the car, Claire lifted the garage and brought out even more equipment and fresh towels. Claire would not let me play with the buffer or even dap on the wax. She lightly spread the wax on like one spreads lotion on burnt skin, lightly as if not to hurt. Just enough to protect but not so much that caked on wax left an uneven shine. I buffed the car just as lightly and when a towel had done one pass it had to be replaced because as Claire told me: a dirty waxed towel just creates a dirty shine.
I spent two hours with Claire washing and waxing the car. When we were done she told me to wait. I saw her put the towels near the washing machine in the garage and watched as she brought out another white and turquoise strap folding chair and place it next to the other chair underneath the car port and in the shade. She then went inside the house and brought two Dr. Pepper sodas. She used her buck knife, which she kept on a holster on her belt, to flip off the bottle caps and she handed me one of the sodas.
Claire looked as she had at the start of the morning. Her reddish blond hair was in a tight well-set bun. Her snap button Western shirt was red and black. The shoulder to breast area of the shirt was covered with a satin in lay of a woman riding a horse into the sunset; the type of shirt a country singer would wear. Her boots were black with a red thread design. Her black denim pants fit her perfectly. She stood out like a gallery painting against the white and turquoise everywhere around her.
Claire invited me to sit with her and drink our sodas. We talked a little but mostly we admired the car and she saw in my eyes that I would become a man who would love cars as she loved them now. She looked at me for few minutes, enough to make me feel that I had done something wrong.
Claire to me: Son, you know about me and Clara, don’t you? I mean you know I love her, don’t you?
Me to Claire: I guess I do. Everyone loves their sister, don’t they?
Claire to me: No. This is different. I love her like your father loves your mother. Do you understand?
Me to Claire: I am not sure. Isn’t loving someone the best thing you can do when you find someone who loves you too?
Claire smiled as I said those words. She came over and squeezed my hand gently as she took the empty bottle from my hand. I thanked her and headed out because the setting sun was my signal to get home.
I did not know about love. I was too young, but Claire wanted me to know that there is a love between people that is the same for everyone, even for those everyone says are sisters. Claire said nothing more to me. The caution to keep what Claire told me secret came from Clara when she saw the next week.
Clara learned what Claire had done and called to me the next Saturday when she saw me playing in the street.
Clara to me: Now, you know what Claire told you is our secret.
Me to Claire: Why is it a secret?
Clara to me: There are people that think that love between two women is wrong. There are some mean people on this street and if anyone said out loud what Claire told you they might force us to move.
Me to Claire: How can anyone force you to move? This is your house.
Clara to me: Some people get so mean and nasty about some things you just want to move. And Claire and I have moved away from other places because of that meanness. I’m tired of moving.
I like Smith Place. People leave us alone and are okay with thinking two sisters are living together. Heck, Mrs. Harris once said that if she could have a nice little house with her sister and leave Mr. Harris and all the kids she would move in an instant.
Me to Clara: So, Claire is not your sister?
Clara to me: No. She is my one true love.
Me to Clara: So, I am not supposed to say that you love Claire, and that Claire loves you?
Clara to me: Okay. I won’t say anything to anyone.
Clara, as I said, was the bigger of the two. She wore the same type of cowboy stuff that Claire, but Clara looked stronger and at times meaner. The Clara that spoke to me that day was not mean. She looked scared to me. I tried to understand what made Clara afraid, but I did not ask. If she had wanted to tell me of her fear, she would have told me so. But maybe that would have been too much for a boy my age.
Every time I saw the sisters after those two days, they smiled at me, but pretended like they had never talk to me. They did do something that made me feel that they liked me. Everyday without fail they brought a copy of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from me. And that was a dime in my pocket, fifty cents a week, two dollars a month—And that’s how steady customers become good friends.