If memory serves

In the spring of 1991, Jo and I started to establish some order in the unkempt yard of our vintage 1899 fixer-upper on 1st Avenue. We moved into it in February, so we had to wait for the thaw before we could fixer-it-up.  

Top priority: Chop down the volunteer mulberry trees growing along the foundation, before they caved in the flagstones.  

We got the house for a song but if those stone walls collapsed, we would have been singing a dirge.  

Weeds were the least of our concern — the bags of chipped paint from the siding weighed about as much in the end as all the thistles and dandelions, and with the snow gone we could step out and assess how little curb appeal our homely home had.

Ultimately a power washer and some scrapers lubed with elbow grease took care of the most scabrous patches.  

On closer inspection, we found much of the redwood siding solid — nails had stayed hammered in over the years, and a new coat of paint brought the house back to life.  

When mulling over color choices, Jo recalled her walks with Grandma Teigen in the north woods of Wisconsin, and her Grandma’s comment, “Blue houses look good in snow.”

Knowing half the year we’d be snowbound, blue it was to be, and blue it remains. 

These and other cosmetic changes sure made it easier to tell people, “That’s where we live.”

Recently I was picking up the usual wind-blown junk from the yard when some kids passed by and said, “Hi. You live here?”

Their cordial banter vaguely reminded me of the down side of our move here in 1991 — not that it was a bad move for us, but often a downer to observe some of our neighbors, and the precarious housing situations many had found themselves in.

It was that spring of 1991 when Jo and I first met many of the kids on the block. The downer — they were friendly, all right, but many asked the same question when leaning on the fence: “You stay here?”

Not “live,” mind you, but “stay.”

The choice of words stuck out then — did they think our house was a hotel? Eventually we figured out, after not seeing many of them for more than a few months at a time before they moved, that they didn’t feel like they were permanently settled in Lyndale. 

There are plenty of not-so-pleasant neighborhood memories from 20 years ago — too many neighbors were victims of violent crimes, and we had our car broken into enough to merit a call from our insurance company, heavily implying they might cancel our policy if we kept reporting it. 

What I wish I didn’t remember was the non-plussed looks from those kids when we’d respond, “No! We LIVE here.”

Here we are, houses foreclosing around us seemingly every hour on the hour, families moving in and out of half-houses and apartments too often to count. And maybe the empty houses on our block will, this time around, welcome families who can live there long enough so we won’t have to hear their kids ask us, “You stay here?”

Luther Krueger is a crime prevention analyst for the Minneapolis Police Department.