If you look up in Hamtramck, surprises await. Like sunflowers -- they're everywhere. If you keep your eyes down in this alley we're walking through, you'll see the trashcan stands at back gates, neatly swept areas of black asphalt, and sewer grates that I peek down and wonder about rats. On trash days I have to watch my dog like a hawk, because she's expert at finding spilled foods and chicken bones that pigeons have dug from the trash and left scattered around. Okay, not just pigeons; the rats do most of the work if you leave your trash out the night before without a tight-fitting lid.
Trash days here have also awarded me the dubious distinction of Trash Picker. Because old people keep dying, and the goods of their eighty or ninety years dumped out by their sons or grandkids or realtors. I was not able to pass up the mint condition set of paisley luggage, or the antique enamel washing tub that now sits on my office shelf. And books --- I've rescued several stacks of hardcovers that once filled quiet nights in pre-TV times with adventure, philosophy, and romance.
Sunflowers tower over me, over the trash stands, often over the garages. I feel pretty small next to them, and they're so self-assured; they see a horizon that I cannot, the big picture, a harmonious whole that is life. Looking at their faces, I can believe in a happy ending; I don't think the sunflowers could fake this kind of proud joyous wisdom. I try to absorb their faith.
My grandpa had sunflowers when I was little, a patch of them in the back corner of his yard. I lived with him from ages four to eight. We'd walk down the hill behind his house to visit the sunflowers, he in workpants and black-framed glasses, no shirt over his round Ukranian belly, a Lucky Strike on his lip; me in short tomboy hair, no shirt, either; both of us barefoot. At a certain time of year, we'd try to beat the squirrels to the seeds, eating them right out of the flower heads that fell heavy to the ground. We'd fill Tropicana orange juice cans with our sunflower seeds, and head back to the house where my grandpa would make breakfast and sing 'Bill Grogan's Goat' and 'I'm Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor.'
Looking at these Hamtramck alley sunflowers today, I am happy for once to be known as the slightly eccentric family member who wears pajama bottoms out of the house. Because last week, my aunt gave me the pair I am wearing now. They were found over the summer while preparing my recently deceased grandmother's house for sale. A house that my grandpa built himself when my mother was a little girl. After he died when I was twelve, my grandma saved one pair of his pajamas. World War II cotton in a pale army green, with a pattern so cool and intricate that even my paisley luggage seems bland in comparison. They are so my grandpa, these pajamas on my legs, and I think about having tomoto soup and elbows for lunch as I pass underneath the sunflowers.
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