Alleyways lead to unpretentious less prominent side of life

Alleyways lead to unpretentious less prominent side of life
Over the years, the geography of neighborhoods has changed, leaving out alleyways, like the one behind my childhood home in Phillipsburg, Pennsylvania.

Similar to most alleys, mine permitted an extended depth of field. If you stood at one end and looked down it, you could see clear to the other end of the block and on to the next. This was like placing the opposite end of a telescope to your eye, when everything appeared smaller and less prominent.

Not exactly level, our alley was bumpy when steering a bicycle. Easy does it when driving a car down the alley – so as not to take out a garage or a shed or a back garden gate.

In its prime, our alleyway was traveled by the coalman, delivering fuel for our furnace; the milkman, lugging milk to drown wild blueberries in that the Blueberry Lady toted door to door in a galvanized bucket.

Unpretentious and unvarnished, this narrow backstreet, served as a passage for family and friends, who entered the back door, replenishing borrowed flour, delivering fresh eggs, sharing home baked goodies, or relieving loneliness – no need to knock at the door, which remained unlocked night and day.

Our alley led to a small stoop with a short set of stairs next to the coal chute behind our house. The rain that had been pounding the roof of our two-story redbrick home since before dawn was letting up – although it gave sorry relief to muggy air.

That is when a stranger suddenly appeared inside our back door on a summer day at dusk. Silence erased our noisy household when he barged right in through the backdoor.

Mother turned quickly from preparing our evening meal to see who was stopping by this time. She approached the lanky man, studying his boyish face, as she patted her hands on the gingham apron tied snugly around her waist. His hair, shirt, and face appeared shiny from rain and sweat.

We looked on from the next room, while he spoke to Mother in muffled and abrupt tones. His speech was low and quick with labored breathing as though he had been running down the alley.

With his raised chin, his neck tightened, and his eyes darted nervously over mother's shoulder, firing glances deep into our lives.

We tried knowing what was happening by watching closely the way Mother's head did not move, her silent shoulders, her frozen feet, her still hands.

Unlike the other times visitors came in off the alleyway, Mother did not exchange words but rather stiffly stepped to the pantry sink to draw a glass of water; then slowly offered it to him.

She responded as though following a command. Stunned and looking straight ahead, her steps were wooden as she moved quietly from the kitchen to the foyer and on up the stairs.

She quickly, yet robotically returned to the back door with one of my father's dark long-sleeved shirts. Looking away and down, with her eyes squeezed and mouth shut, she handed him the shirt. He grabbed it and disappeared out the back door.

Mother's face flooded with fear as she dialed the phone. A short time later, police sirens and flashing lights screamed past our back door, chasing what we learned later was a bank robber on the run down the muddy alleyway.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail

Copyright � 2007 Paula Damon

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