May 30, 2012 by greenhouse04
Just the other day I happened to glance out my window in time to see a huge piece of farm machinery drive by. It took up two-thirds of the road, was easily as tall as our house, and was the only vehicle driving down our main (and only paved) road in town. I had to smile to myself. Really – how many Americans this morning will look out their window to see that drive by?
I have looked out many windows in my long life of 29 years. Big windows, small windows, cheap windows, quality windows. I have seen many things out those windows – quiet residences, glowing skylines, crowded streets, signs in foreign languages, and now fields, trees and farm equipment.
One of the windows in my first bedroom as a girl looked out across our backyard. It was a good-sized window, with a screen that could be removed, so sometimes for whatever reason I’d climb out of it and avoid my parents’ eyes. This window also had a cross-shaped sticker on it, which my parents told me was supposed to reflect light during a house fire and signal to the firemen that there was a child in a back bedroom. I would often stare at that sticker at night and imagine the possibility that it might be used someday.
The windows in my new basement bedroom as a teenager were also the smallest I’ve ever had. They boasted a view of leaves and insects in the window wells, with the occasional cat passing through. I also saw lots of feet and lower legs out those windows, and the tires of cars as they drove down our street. Small as they were, I managed to continue the tradition of sneaking out of them at night at times – with these windows it just required a little more acrobatic wriggling.
I had a once-in-a-lifetime view out my college window. It looked out across the Chicago skyline; I could see Merchandise Mart and the Sears Tower, only a mile or so away. If I looked down the 7 stories to the street below, I could see lots of people walking, cars and taxis and buses, and police cars. I heard lots of noises out that window, too – all the normal sounds of traffic, plus frequent sirens or police car loud-speakers. There was also a car accident or two, and sometimes yelling and screaming. I also had a nice view of the office building across the street, but I could only see inside those windows if the light was just right. But I would study the desks and chairs and imagine what might be written on all those papers, and what the people over there did.
I have vivid memories of cleaning that window – one of the most onerous semesterly tasks we were asked to do. It was a large window – plenty big enough for someone to fall out of – and we had to open it, take out the screen, then swing the window inside our room and wash the outside of it. It was interesting standing next to a big gaping hole in your wall, seven stories high!
After I married, I acquired some new windows on our college campus. These were the best windows I’ve ever had. We had a corner apartment, so our tiny living room had floor-to-ceiling windows covering nearly the entire north and west walls. Wow, could I see a lot out those windows.
Of course, there was the apartment building right across the narrow street, full of windows just as big as ours’ and offering fascinating views of other peoples’ homes. There was the street below, a much quieter residential street, but still full of pedestrians, cars and taxis. There was the school gym and soccer field to the west, the gym in which Michael Jordon himself and the Chicago Bulls practiced while I was going to college there. There were the firework displays on the Fourth of July – ten or twenty of them from the western city suburbs which we enjoyed from our 9th-floor vista. And best of all, there was the sky and the sun. We grew beautiful plants in our western window, and at night the big sky glowing with city lights surrounded us as we slept.
It’s interesting to pull out memories of our windows in China; part of me marvels, I really saw that out those windows? More once-in-a-lifetime sights. For one thing, we saw Chinese people walking down the streets and Chinese signs. I could see the skull of the dog just butchered sitting in front of a restaurant three doors down. We could watch a group of old men playing a Chinese card game on low stools day after day. I could see when our 5-gallon jugs of water arrived by motorcycle.
We could hear lots of sounds, too: someone practicing a traditional Chinese opera song, the wailing, undulating melody floating through the open window; street hawkers shouting the names of their wares (we had the line they shouted every day memorized by the time we left); English students chanting lines in English over and over from the windows next door. And there were the pink lights at night, identifying places of business devoted to illicit pleasure for gentlemen customers – there were two or three of such businesses right across the street from us, and I could watch the young girls sitting or standing around inside them, waiting.
As I remember I can’t avoid the smells that came through those windows. Hot peanut oil mostly, and all the garlic and ginger that was used in cooking. Less pronounced were the smells of people – unwashed, no deodorant, and small children using the street as a toilet.
Since our windows were open most of the time (no central air or heat), we also had things other than sights, sounds and smells. We had dust – dust from the quarries nearby and the street below, covering our apartment with a nice layer in a few days; insects like huge cockroaches and spiders; and humid air. Air so humid our clothes took three days to dry and mold grew on our leather couch, kitchen counters, sandals, and walls.
From those windows in China, we moved to some extremely boring ones in the town of my birth in Kansas. Out of those there was nothing to see expect trees, bushes, streets, cars, houses, and occasionally the very friendly neighbor woman whom we sometimes tried to avoid.
And now I have new, quality, very tight windows that look out at a tiny country town that has farm machinery driving through nearly as often as cars. I’ve also seen a deer, coyote, and skunk. I can watch when people drive up to church and I can look out to my garden in the backyard. We don’t have potted plants growing in any of our windows, but we finally live in a place where we can plant perennials and look out and enjoy their blooms year after year. I can study the different birds that come to our feeders – Cardinals, Blue Birds, Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Red-breasted Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Robins, Orioles, finches and sparrows and black birds. And I can toy with the thought that I may have to wash my windows sometime this decade, especially since a talented bird managed to spray his poo through the screen and all over one of them.
Wow, how privileged am I to have had so many windows with so many different views already in my short 29 years. I wonder what I’ll see out my window today.