There’s a large live oak tree out front. I’d say ancient, but I’ve seen pictures of our building from the fifties, and it’s not there. It’s older than me, and it’s taller than our three-story building, but it’s not ancient.
Each morning the sidewalk needs swept. Live oaks shed their leaves year-round. Another name for them could be always dying oaks. They shed leaves, and in the spring, they shed little yellow pollen powdered parts that look like caterpillars. I don’t hate the leaves, but I do hate the pollen parts.
I like sweeping the sidewalk. There aren’t many things I feel that I do well, but I’m good at this. One glance when I’m finished, and I can see the sidewalk is swept.
Some people are more practical than I am. When they walk by, they suggest that I use a leaf blower, or at least a bigger broom. They don’t understand.
Sometimes I do use the leaf blower, but I don’t enjoy it. The gas-powered blower won’t start, and I say the worst of all words and then look around to make sure no one heard me. The electric blower works, but the extension cord hangs and tangles and makes me say bad things, but no one can hear because the blower is noisy.
The broom always works and never makes me angry. It does take longer, but it does more than clean the sidewalk.
There’s a historic theater next door. We share a sidewalk, and we also share live oak leaves. When I have time, I sweep in front of the theater, too. Sometimes there’s popcorn to sweep in front of the Majestic, but there hasn’t been lately. Just yellow dust from my tree.
I swept the sidewalk the morning my mother died and again the next morning. I’ve swept in the cold, and even in the rain. I love the way the old town square looks in the rain. The one-hundred-year-old courthouse and the brick streets and the old buildings. Sweeping connects me to all of that.
I’ve wondered who swept my sidewalk throughout the last one-hundred years. Who swept in front of the Princess Theater when the sign advertised the newest Charlie Chaplin film? Who swept in front of the Stanley Café during the Great Depression? Did someone clear their mind from the lynching behind our building in the twenties by sweeping the sidewalk the next morning?
Today I’m the man who sweeps our sidewalk. I wonder if I’ll still be sweeping it in forty years. If so, I’ll have lived a long life, but it will have gone by quickly. I’ll think back to this year and wonder where time went.
Although our tree isn’t ancient, I don’t remember who planted it, nor who swept the sidewalk then. And sometime soon, people won’t remember who swept the sidewalk today.