29 October, 2010

Civic Duty

I have this childhood memory (mid-1950's) of my grandparents’ neighbor, a retired minister whom everyone called ‘Pastor’.  He would come out everyday but Sunday--weather permitting; sweep the sidewalk, the storm sewer grates and pick up litter in the street.  I remember asking my grandmother why he would do that and her reply was that he did it as a civic duty, that it was just the Pastor’s way of keeping the neighborhood nice.  I know I didn’t quite grasp the concept of civic duty at age six, but I took her word for it.

When I purchased a house on the near west side of Cleveland in 1980, our neighbor across the street wasn’t necessarily a church-going kind of guy.  But, Lenny reminded me of the Pastor in the way he would clean the area in front of his property every couple of days with a hose and pushbroom.  I started calling him "the Dutch wife" for the way he scrubbed the front of his house.  One day, after mowing my lawn, I went over to talk to him about what he was doing.  Lenny said it was his way of keeping an eye on the neighborhood kids and keeping his property value up.  Ahh!  An ulterior motive-- preservation of his investment in his house!  From then on, I would join him in cleaning my side of the street whenever I saw him out there.

Another childhood memory was a fire at a relatives’ house and the firemen had to chop the snow and ice with their axes in order to get to the hydrant.  Snowplows clearing the streets a few days before had packed the snow around the hydrant.  With the freezing temperatures in the days that followed, the snow acquired a rock-like density.  Clearing the snow took several minutes, delayed putting out the fire and the house was a total loss.  Had the hydrant been clear when the firemen arrived, I think they could have saved much more of the house.

My current home in Cleveland Heights is at the low end of our street and has both a fire hydrant and a storm sewer grate out front.  During a heavy rain, water will collect in the street and flood the tree lawns if the grates are blocked with leaves or litter.  So there’s more an ulterior motive than some sense of civic duty that I make sure the sewer grate is kept clean. It’s to keep my yard from being flooded.  During the winter months, I keep the hydrants at home and at my office cleared.  The thought of losing the house because the hydrant is blocked is enough motivation for me and it only takes a minute-or-two to do the job. 

So, if you have either sewer grate, a hydrant or both on your property, get out there and spend a little time cleaning them up.  The property you save from damage may be your own.  Besides, I’d like to think Lenny and the Pastor would be proud of us.

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