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Janis Jaquith
janis@radioessays.com
798 words

THY NEIGHBORS' GOODS

Did you ever go on one of those Garden Week tours? We have them every year here in Virginia. I don't especially care about the gardens, but I love it when the tour includes someone's house.

A couple of years ago, our local tour included the house of one of my neighbors. I wasn't about to miss this. I run into these people all the time in the post office, but they've never invited me to their house.

On the day of the tour, I joined busloads of garden-lovers, trampling the grass and nodding politely as a guide told us about the English cottage garden. She said it's a place for ordered chaos.

Ordered chaos? I liked the sound of that.

Finally, we got to the good part: The house. The owners were nowhere in sight and guides were stationed strategically to steer people away from certain rooms and toward others.

This was a big, solid house with high ceilings. Original artwork covered the walls in the front hallway. Fragile-looking antique chairs flanked the front door.

Already, my own cluttered house seemed crummy compared to this.

My whole life seemed crummy compared to this.

We gathered in the living room where a guide told us the history of the house. I looked around the room and realized how wrong I had been about my neighbors. When I see them at the post office, they drive up in a dusty Jeep, wearing old jeans and T-shirts.

Normal people, like me. Or so I thought.

I scanned the room, looking for a television, or a radio. Nothing. Not even a TV-sized cabinet where one could be hiding. This was not my kind of living room. This was the kind of living room where the people have statues. And, yes, there were statues - a pair of skinny wrought-iron horses - perched on their own little mahogany table next to the fireplace.

I don't know about you, but you won't find any statues in my house. I have nothing against them, it's just that every month after we pay the mortgage, there's not much left over to put into the statue fund.

I do have an inflatable-doll version of The Scream on my mantel, and there's a trophy that I'd rather not discuss, but I don't think either of those qualify as statues.

Neatly displayed on their coffee table were several issues of Smithsonian Magazine and a stack of Architectural Digests. I happen to like both of those magazines, but I would have liked these people a whole lot better if there had also been, say, a current TV Guide or a People Magazine.

I was not proud of myself for harboring these thoughts. After all, why should I think badly of these people just because they have more money and better taste than I do?

It was time to move on. The herd was shuffling toward the custom kitchen - with an oven that cost more than the book value of my car.

I was about to pass through the doorway and leave the dining room, when I glanced up at their bookshelves. What I saw made me rethink everything I'd learned on this tour.

There, on the very top shelf, was a row of books, each one with those tell-tale fat horizontal stripes stacked up the spine. Reader's Digest Condensed Books. Hah!

How much do you want to bet that the TV was stashed away in one of those off-limits rooms? No wonder they were guarding those doors. They didn't want anybody to see their stacks of People magazines.

What else do you suppose they swept out of the way for Garden Week? Maybe a collection of barnyard-animal salt and pepper shakers. Or a clock in the shape of a beer bottle

Back at home, I looked around and decided that my place wasn't so bad, even though I have no gardens to speak of and my only antique is a 1950's-era chrome-and-vinyl dinette chair that belonged to my grandmother. I use it to stand on when I'm cleaning the cobwebs out of the corner of the ceiling.

I took a good look at my kitchen, and it made me smile to realize that all of our original artwork is home-grown and stuck to the refrigerator with magnets.

All things considered, I prefer the ordered chaos of my country cottage. And all the novels on my shelves are full-length.


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