The streets around us where the girls in my elementary school class lived – even the girls themselves – had names with a little lilt, kind of Scottish-sounding and light. Kerry and Erin lived in new houses perched on the end of Bell Lane and Derry Drive in Maple Glen and Aidenn Lair, the two developments I peered at through the bus window on the way to and from school.

We were the last stop on the route because we lived on Welsh Road, not a lane or a drive. Lanes wound in circles and ended in cul-de-sacs; roads went somewhere. No one walked or rode their bikes on Welsh Road. Lined with smashed newspapers and crushed cigarette packs, it was a straight route to the train station where my father waited for the train that took him back and forth to the city.

Our house was built by my mother’s aunt, who left it in her will to my mother. My mother felt, and my brothers and I agreed, that we were somehow better than our neighbors because although we had no money, along with the house we had the land that went with it – 28 acres, not a measly half-acre plot with a fence around it. Who else had woods and an apple orchard?

We were usually barefoot and slightly hungry, and we roamed wherever we wanted. In the winter we swiped our hands across the yew bushes to taste the snow that rested on the top; in the summer we pulled honeysuckle flowers apart. We plucked blueberries and sucked sun-warmed concord grapes that we yanked from the vines.

The house was like a secret clubhouse, and we made more clubhouses, away from one another – in the needles underneath pine trees, in tree houses, in the cedar closet, in the attic, in our rooms. During the long summers I read and re-read books and watched old movies, emerging, blinking, back into the world, every September.

Staring through that bus window on my way back and forth to school, it seemed to me there were subtle differences between Aidenn Lair and Maple Glen. In Aidenn Lair, the houses were bigger and the yards were naked plots of dirt and grass. Aidenn Lair was like March, raw and new. The Maple Glen houses had been there for five years or so and the trees were teen-age size, the yards greener. Maple Glen was like April.

If our house was a month, it would be November, when the wind swept through the oak tree in our front lawn and blew down all the leaves and the dust settled in on the furniture. In our house, everything had already happened. The house was full of old things – my parents were older than my friends’ parents and the furniture we had was from my great-aunt who left my mother the house.

The only books we had on the shelves were from the 40’s and 50’s. The bikes that we rode and even the songs that we sang were handed down from our older brothers. My parents were worn out. It seemed to me that my younger brother and I had arrived at the tail end of the arc of our family’s life.

From my school bus window, it seemed there were no messy front yards or run-down houses in the developments. There were not even any old cars. Everyone had two new clean cars, one of which the husband, whom I imagined to be an engineer or doctor, drove to work each day, while the mother stayed home, cleaning and cooking dinner. No one took the train to work like my father.

No one had white hair like my mother. Leaning my face against the bus window, I stared into the empty, clean garages full of bikes and tools hung from racks, unlike our dark and messy garage filled with broken tools and ancient rusty toys. Barbecue grills and picnic tables filled the backyards; it seemed that life was getting better for these young families.

My mother, who noticed our longing for the development people’s lives, sometimes teased us with the idea of buying one of those houses. But I knew that if we were transplanted there, we would not be bright and shiny enough to fit in. We didn’t have lunch boxes and new clothes and energetic young fathers. Ours would have been the house with the overgrown lawn, the Christmas lights still up in June.

Soggy black and white cardboard, ”No-Hunting” signs were attached to our trees with rusty staples but the hunters had long ago abandoned our woods. It was the backhoes and bulldozers who were encroaching, coming closer every year. The sounds of hammers and engines were always in the air in the spring, right over the hill. The work was out of sight, but the change was happening, creeping up Jarrettown Road like a sumac vine, devouring the creeks and the fields.

We sold vegetables from a stand in front of our house. Customers who saw the sign next to our mailbox had to drive up our long drive to find the stand; mostly they didn’t bother. The metal scale for weighing vegetables tantalized my younger brother and me, who had been forbidden to touch it. Once we held one of our cats on the scale and broke it. We ran like frightened deer into the pine trees that lined our driveway, hiding until it was dark and we sensed a shift in my mother’s call, from annoyance to anger.

I remember the hiding more than the spanking, peering out through the pine branches on that long chilly day, lying on the soft, sweet-smelling bed of needles, worrying. The long pine branches hung down, hiding us; there were little round openings in the ground that my brother said were snake holes. I never saw a snake, but it felt true, and it fit with the feeling of my life back then, a combination of anxiety and freedom. I could see the daffodils bobbing against the bright blue sky, planted in a long row along the driveway next to the pine trees.

There were hundreds that came up every year, when the air was still cold and the wind was blowing away the dust and dirt of winter. They had been planted thirty years before by my aunt’s gardener and they still miraculously emerged from the gray, matted, soggy grass every spring. There were lots of big showy yellow ones, a few whites, and a pale, pale cream-colored variety full of ruffles that I loved the most. The flowers were clipped to the ground along with the grass and weeds by the Gravely mower in the summer. It seemed fewer came up each year, and the stalks seemed shorter to my anxious eyes.

Every year in early April, my mother parked the car on our long driveway and waited while my brother and I picked the daffodils. She told us to pluck them at the bottom so they would grow back taller the following year. When I snapped the daffodils, a little bit of liquid escaped their hollow stems, as if they were hurt. The stems were cool, and the air was cold. Spring was coming, but it wasn’t quite here. The daffodils went into heavy tin buckets filled with water, and by the time we were finished, our fingers cold and red, two buckets were completely filled, their smell so strong it filled the station wagon while she drove us to a nearby street to begin sales in the waning light.

It was the mid-60’s and there were always mothers at home back then preparing dinners. They answered the door to see us clutching a bunch of barely opened flowers. I could catch a glimpse of the cool, clean living rooms and smell the dinners cooking and there was a longing in my throat to go inside and smell the food, to sit in these houses for a while before moving on to the next house and then finally going home to our own dinner.

“Would you like to buy some daffodils at 25 cents a dozen?” we’d inquire politely, perched on the doorstep; “Two for 35 cents?” (my brother’s idea).

I loved that moment, peering through the door into those perfect houses and knowing we had something they wanted, the station wagon purring behind us where my mother waited, proud of her industrious children. Everyone bought the daffodils; we always sold out within an hour or so and were allowed to keep the money. As the buckets emptied and the sun set, the cold change weighed down my pocket. We counted it in the car on the way home so we could tell her how much we made, and then we counted it again at home on the floor of our room and divided it right down the middle.

She died when I was 11 and my brother was 9 in the middle of April of 1968, of breast cancer, after three months in the hospital. We didn’t do anything with the daffodils that year, but the following spring we decided to pick the daffodils again, hoping for something – we weren’t quite sure what. I was twelve and my brother was ten.

We had my father drop us off with the buckets on the sidewalk next to the A&P on a Saturday morning while he did the weekly grocery shopping. This time, everyone rushed by us and we felt poor and shabby and foolish. My mother’s third cousin, fat, rich Uncle George, came by and saw us. He gave us a big handful of dollar bills, enough money for all the flowers we had left. We packed up the buckets in the car and never sold the daffodils again.


Holly Maurer-Klein’s non-fiction essays have been published in Minerva Rising, an anthology from Feminist Press, The Sun and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After a long career in the business world, she writes about work, family and love in all its many forms. She lives in Pittsburgh.