This dispatch comes from a Deputy Observer on her recent trip to see Bill Clinton in Little Rock. She had taken old photographs that she'd made of Bill and Hillary's home during his years as attorney general to give to the former president.
"A workmate from Ohio and I went to the presentation by the Little Rock Nine of their Congressional Gold Medal to the Clinton Library Saturday. I was miraculously able to find my pictures, taken in the early-mid 1990s, of Bill and Hillary's old home on "L" Street where they lived when Clinton was the attorney general and took them along in hope of a chance to give them to President Clinton.
"It was a beautiful program and, at the close, Pres. Clinton moved down to the first row to shake hands with notables there. Workmate thought the president would go down the front row and out the back door as the Secret Service were moving in that direction. Since we were boxed in on the fourth row, we worried that she would miss out on her dream of shaking his hand. But, fortunately, some old lady sitting next to her (aka me) began pushing chairs into any vacated inch available, and we were suddenly on the first row.
"I sort of edged Mayor Stodola over — and there we were in line for Clinton ahead of the mayor! President Clinton spoke with our workmate, talked about her move to UALR, her work here, and her mother's joy that she was meeting him. Then he signed her autograph book. I then handed him the pictures of his old home. He looked at them trying to register what I'd handed him and then began talking with me about the house. He and Hillary had recently discovered that they had no pictures of that house! He said they have pictures in their New York home of every house they have lived in except the one on "L" Street! He said I had made his day!
"Mayor Stodola then spoke and started to introduce someone to President Clinton, but I took a deep breath and said 'Hey! You forgot to shake my hand!' Clinton turned back and said "You're right" and held out his right hand. I looked at it for a moment, then looked him in the eyes and said, 'This is the hand that shook President Kennedy's hand — so I am shaking hands with both of you! And, now you are truly making my day twice!' He smiled and said 'Thank you!' and then the Mayor claimed him."
The Observer lives down in Capitol View, and the house next door to us has been empty for awhile — for sale sign out front, fresh coat of paint, new roof, older but with good bungalow bones, plenty of space for a young family. Even so, it just sat there for over a year. From time to time, folks would come and tour the place, open the cabinet doors, turn the ceiling fan on and off while the smiling realtor turned in circles and pointed out details. We know because we were watching; peeping though our curtains, hoping against hope that this would be the family that brought light back to those dark windows across the driveway. The Observer is a social fellow, prone to sitting on the porch on summer nights, listening to the cars rolling past and swatting the occasional mosquito. We love this city. We love its neighborhoods, and the fabric of community. And that empty house, seemingly so good and yet still unloved, unsettled us in ways we couldn't bear. Over time, it became a symbol to us for all of America, where good houses sit dark because of the crummy economy. If a house is not a vessel for life, we thought, what is it?
Then, one night this week, we saw headlights in the driveway. When we peeked out, we saw that a young couple had backed their small SUV to the door and were unloading all the flotsam and jetsam of family life: a vacuum cleaner, boxes of books, pots and pans and bed linens. It was only then that we noticed that the realtor sign was down. We couldn't help but smile.
The Observer doesn't know if they will be good neighbors or bad, but we do know they're a heck of a lot better than nothing. Welcome to Maple Street, friends.