On the drive from the airport to our new house close to the University, my parents were up front, talking nonstop, and Taylor had on her headphones and was busy texting. One of her Washington-Lee High School friends, no doubt. Or all of them. Oh well, I thought, closing my eyes. I knew how to entertain myself, too.
“Noah Wayne, now batting for the Nationals.” The radio play-by-play guy was tense. “It’s the bottom of the ninth. We have the tying run on second and Wayne represents the winning run. If you’re just tuning in, you’ve missed a dandy! Wayne got the Nationals back in this one with a 3-run homer in the 7th. The Dodgers have brought in a right-handed reliever to face the right-handed Wayne. Wait, what is this? Wayne steps into the batter’s box and it appears he is going to bat from the left side! I can’t believe it. And now, he’s pointing his bat to the right field bleachers! What can he be thinking?! The pitcher doesn’t know what to make of it either and seems to be uneasy. He shakes off the catcher’s sign. Again. Now he’s ready. And, here’s the windup… and the pitch. A fastball right down the middle. Wayne swings and it’s a long, long fly ball! The right fielder is backpedaling, looks up, it’s gone! The Washington Nationals win on a walk off home run by Noah Wayne!”
“What are you smiling about?” I opened my eyes to see Dad twisted in his seat and looking at me.
“Oh, just thinking about one of my baseball games.”
“Right,” Dad said with a frown. “Sorry you didn’t get to finish the summer season. Anyway, we’re here.”
I looked around as we got out. “Um, I see a garage, but where’s the house?” We were standing on the sidewalk and there were houses across the street, but on our side I only saw two garage doors in the side of a hill.
Taylor was standing with her arms crossed and that look of slouching disgust that they must teach girls in 8th or 9th grade. She had seen it before me. I followed her gaze up, up, and there at the top of God only knows how many steps was in fact a house.
“That’s it?” I asked disbelievingly.
“Yes!” That was both of them in sync with that forced cheerfulness that adults use to try to convince you something is not crappy when it really is.
Taylor wasn’t having any. “Why did we park way down here, instead of in the alley behind the house?” She was looking at the houses on the block below us and the alley running behind them.
“Funny thing about that, kids,” Dad started, though I was already thinking funny might not be the right word, “this hill is so steep that when the city was laying out the streets ninety or so years ago, they found they couldn’t continue Edgar Street past here.” He motioned to the street downhill from us that ended at the vacant lot that ran up the hill along side our house. “No street, no alley.”
Sure enough, Taylor wasn’t laughing. Ignoring Dad and turning to Mom, she said, “I thought the reason you flew out to help Dad find a house was to make sure he didn’t do something like this. Did you actually sign off on it?”
You’ve got to hand it to my mom. She stood there, virtually being called the Benedict Arnold of mothers, and did not bat an eye. “Of course I did. It’s a lovely house. It’s a nice size for us and the professor at the U who is leasing it to us has kept it in good condition. The steps are going to help keep us fit and are probably the reason we got such a good price on the lease. Besides, wait until you see the view!”
The air was already going out of Taylor’s huff. She could see that Mom was totally behind this decision and there was no point in resisting. “I don’t suppose there’s a chairlift or rope-tow or anything,” Taylor said with her last bit of attitude.
Dad laughed and started to herd us to the bottom of the steps, but a voice from across the street stopped us.
“Hey, are you new neighbors?” A portly, rosy-cheeked older man with glasses was walking toward us.
“That’s right,” my dad called and walked to meet him, hand extended.
“Well, that’s fine, just fine. Welcome to Roanoke Park. I’m Ned Swenson,” the neighbor said taking Dad’s hand in his.
“I’m Christopher Wayne,” Dad introduced himself as he turned toward us. This is my wife, Lillian Carter, and our children, Taylor and Noah.”
Mr. Swenson took us all in with his big grin, then leaned in to my father and said seriously, “I told Dr. Perkins that he’d never get anyone to lease his place. I bet you did it sight unseen, didn’t you? Didn’t know about all these steps, did you?”
“No, we saw it all right. It’s perfect,” Dad smiled.
Mr. Swenson looked at my sister and me doubtfully. Taylor shook her head and raised her hands in a shrug.
“Dr. Perkins was hoping to find someone from the University, another professor,” Mr. Swenson offered tentatively.
“Oh, I am,” Dad told him. “Just getting started this summer.”
“I see,” our new neighbor couldn’t hide the slightest trace of disappointment. “Assistant Professor, then? Still working on your PhD?”
“Oh, no. I am a full professor. And it is Dr. Wayne. I just don’t like to start an introduction that way. And this isn’t my first school. I only meant I’m just getting started here.” Dad couldn’t hide the slightest trace of defensiveness.
“Hmmm, where did you go to school, Dr. Wayne?” Mr. Swenson continued.
“Well, actually, I got my Doctorate here at the U-Dub.”
“How about undergrad?”
“I grew up back east, went to a small liberal arts school. Doubt you’d have heard of it.”
Mr. Swenson perked up. “Oh? Which one?”
Reluctantly, Dad said, “Uh, Harvard.”
“Nothing to be ashamed of, Dr. Wayne. I think Yale is top-notch, but Harvard is good.” Mr. Swenson thought for a second. “Where were you before coming here?”
“Georgetown.” My father’s tone was getting a little grim.
“Not Ivy,” Mr. Swenson said, more to himself than to us.
“No.” That from my father, a bit firmer than necessary.
Mr. Swenson turned to my mother. But, before he could say anything, she rattled off, “Grew up here in Seattle, Roosevelt High, University of Washington undergrad and graduate, Masters Degree only, School of Anthropology, specialized in Archaeology. I’m a field archaeologist. I’ve also been teaching at Georgetown, but most of my time is spent in the field, anywhere anyone will let me dig things up. What do you do, Ned?”
Mr. Swenson’s mouth opened and closed a couple times before he said, “I’m, I’m retired.”
“Which home is yours, Ned?” my mother asked easily.
“There,” he was pointing across the street and one house north.
“Lovely. And the roof is so shiny and so…red.”
“Thank you. We’re Swedish,” he said, presumably explaining the roof.
“Are you married, Ned?” Mom asked, catching him off guard.
“Oh. Yes. To Anne. Anne is my wife.”
“Lovely,” Mom said taking his hand to say good-bye. “As soon as we are settled, we would love to have you both over for coffee.”
Regaining his composure, Mr. Swenson looked up the stairs to our new home and said, “Thank you, but why don’t we make it at our house?”
As we hauled our bags up the steps, we paused midway to catch our breath. Mom started laughing. We all looked at her, expectantly. “Chris, if your faculty interview in June had been that tough, we might not be here right now.”