In Mountain View there are characters I see on a regular basis. The homeless man that dances with an invisible partner. The rotund bearded man who wears a kilt and leather wide-brimmed hat and waits for the bus to get to his high-tech job. (Yes, he’s in high-tech; I’ve seen him waiting to go home in front of a Mountain View company.) However, the characters from my childhood hold more magic for some reason.
Pete and RePete
Growing up in Little Falls, New Jersey, just 30 minutes outside of the city (New York City – is there any other?) it felt very much like a small town at times. Everyone pretty much knew everyone else, or you at least knew of everyone else.
Two characters everyone knew were the twins that we would see walking around town together all the time. We called them Pete and RePete. I have no idea if one of them was even called Pete. That is what we called them. And their names were passed from one generation of children to the next.
In my memory they’re walking down Main Street wearing dark grey work pants and dark grey jackets (always pressed), carrying lunch pails or a book (it was something), brown short-cropped hair, and horn rimmed glasses. They were completely synchronous – walked in step, swaying their arms at the same pace. They seemed to have the same internal beat – their hearts probably had beat at the same rate since they were in utero and everything else just fell into place. Seemingly, they were inseparable and one-in-the-same.
Riding through town in the backseat of my parent’s sky blue Chevy Caprice, I’d do some Pete/RePete spotting. It was a little treat to watch them in their little world. It meant my world was as it should be with the reassuring consistency of Pete and RePete walking to and from work together. (I had no idea where they were going, but as they were adults they must have been on their way to work or back home from it. That’s what adults do.) And yet, I always found myself asking what would it be like to always have another person with you – never being alone? If one died, how would the other survive if he’s never been alone in his entire life?
Over the years, white streaks appeared on the sides of their heads. They seemed to do aging synchronously too. Slowly I saw less and less of them. Did they retire? Or was it as I grew older my daily route changed and theirs didn’t? I don’t know what happened to them. Did they ever know we called them Pete and Re-Pete? They must have.
Another character lived on my street. We called him Mr. Mean-Green. He was probably more a neighbourhood character, rather than a town character. He was obsessed with his lawn and garden, and would stand guard over it while sitting on his front porch. If we got an inch too close to his front lawn, he would glare. God forbid we ever stepped on that lawn. Boy, would we get yelled at, or worse yet he’d talk to our parents. We wouldn’t even dare bring a dog anywhere near that lawn. They had small terriers, but they never pooped on that lawn. That’s what the neighbours’ lawns were for. So even though there was a sidewalk there, I would cross the street just to avoid going anywhere near Mean-Green land.
The formidable Mr. Mean-Green was no match for my curiosity though. I don’t know if he ever knew about my explorations of his backyard. I can only imagine that he didn’t, because I don’t remember my mom giving me a talking-to about them. You see there was an unfortified entry point into his backyard. I lived on the side of the street that had fairly level properties. On the other side of the street, where he lived, the backyards dropped off into a gully that had a brook running through it. This brook was the highway to adventure. On the weekends I would follow the older kids through tunnels to areas yet unexplored by me. During the week while they were in school, I would go back to the brook to the places we had been.
One of the places the older kids always by-passed was Mr. Mean-Green’s portion of the gully. They always stayed in the brook there where it decided to dig deeper into the ground, so that we would have had to climb up vertical walls to get out. But I would peak over the edge of the brook while my older sister begged me to keep up. To me it looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Vast areas of perfectly even, soft, green grass, with a bridge over the brook that led to a secluded garden area rimmed with flowers. It was too much temptation for a little girl to resist. So one Spring weekday, I climbed out of the brook to the garden. I didn’t stay too long. But it was so exciting to be in the forbidden territory where there was a table set surrounded by flowers that was just dying to be used for tea parties. Oh Alice would have loved this place, and a little girl could play tea party for hours.
Mrs. Mean-Green must have spotted me perched up on her look-out, the back porch. She started coming down the hill with her terriers. I was terrified of dogs, even small ones that I could have crushed just by sitting on them. My memory gets hazy here. I can’t remember if she talked to me or if I got away. I do remember clambering down the side of the brook and jumping from rock to rock to reach the safety of the Freeland’s portion of the brook, where I could run back home undetected. But silly little me returned a few more times that Spring to play. After that Spring I never got out of the brook there again. Summers meant spending the day at the pool, and by fall it was time for full days of school. So the weekends were spent with the more cautious older kids who never ventured into Mean-Green land.
There are more characters like the man that supposedly chased kids out of his yard with a shot gun and the purple house lady. But this post is getting too long and travelling down memory lane is probably boring for anyone other than me.