Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Doorstep Discoveries
by Gayle Brandeis

A squirrel rang my doorbell once when I was thirteen. My family had just moved into a suburban, two-story house after years of urban apartment dwelling. The doorbell rang often -- friends and relatives came to see our new place, the "Welcome Wagon" paid a visit, neighbors stopped by with plates of cookies and quick breads. When the bell chimed this particular time, though, no one appeared to be there. I thought maybe some kids in the neighborhood were playing "ding-dong-ditch," but there was no flash of sneakers in retreat, no blur of jeans disappearing around the corner. I wondered if the bell had a short. I was about to close the door when I happened to look down. A squirrel looked back up at me. I swear to this day it was smiling.

Through the years, many strange and wondrous things have continued to appear on my doorsteps. My husband Matt and I recently bought our first house after years of renting. The day we moved in, a pair of men's underwear showed up on our front lawn. Because we live near a park, we figured it was the by-product of some revelry there -- the details of which we were glad to be spared. Matt picked up the briefs with some newspaper and threw them in the trash.

Later that day, the same not-so-clean pair of underwear showed up on our patio. We were a bit perplexed. Was a friend playing a joke on us? Was a pervert lurking in our new neighborhood? Can underwear fly? We tossed the dirty drawers into the garbage yet again, and, slightly puzzled, went on with our lives.

Today, a month later, I happened to look in the ancient wood burning stove that sits outside our house. The underwear was crammed inside -- stiff, water stained, slightly rusted with age. I threw them out for what I hope will truly be the final time, although I shudder to imagine where we might find them next.

Other doorstep discoveries have, fortunately, been much more pleasant. A couple of days after the first underwear sighting, an office chair appeared on our front porch. No one rang the doorbell; no note was attached. It was a nice office chair -- plush and pneumatic -- possibly even brand new. A plastic carpet-protector mat lay folded behind it like a clear ribbon of taffy. Maybe it was delivered to the wrong house, we reasoned. We asked neighbors if they had ordered a chair. No one claimed to know anything about it. After much mind wracking, we decided it must be an anonymous house-warming gift and rolled it inside. We are extremely grateful, but we have no idea to whom to be grateful. The chair fairy, perhaps?

When I awoke this past Mother's Day, Matt told me Mother Nature had left a gift on our porch. I thought he meant the wind had blown something onto our doorstep -- a blossoming branch perhaps, or maybe a bird's nest, something unexpected and beautiful. Then I opened the door. Someone had left a vase of lilies along with an aromatherapy candle in a glass dish. A note, printed in an elegant font, was taped to the candle. "To a wonderful mother," it said, "With admiration, from Mother Nature."

I was deeply moved by this not-so-random act of kindness. I wasn't feeling all that wonderful as a mother at the time, and it was comforting to know that someone thought I was doing an okay job. It also did my heart good just to see such generosity in action. I felt humbled, thankful, even charmed. It was like being granted a visit from the tooth fairy without having to lose a tooth. It was like being blessed.

I had my suspicions about Mother Nature's alter ego. A friend -- a woman as giving as the earth itself -- had previously left surprise baskets for my kids on our doorstep, acting as sidekick for various holiday characters. Of course it was her, I reasoned. When I asked my friend to thank Mother Nature for me, though -- wink, wink -- she had no idea what I was talking about. She was so sincerely puzzled that I had to believe she was innocent. I have a few other suspects in mind, but I don't think I'll do any more sleuthing. I like not knowing for sure where it, or the office chair, or even the underwear came from.

As grown-ups, it seems we aren't privy to much magic in our lives -- much sacred, silly, surprise. We keep magic alive for our children, but it isn't always alive for us, not in any real way. Maybe we just forget to be open to it.

My doorstep discoveries have reminded me to be ever-ready and willing for wonder -- that anything can happen when I step through my front door. Like a real life "Let's Make a Deal," there could be La-Z-Boy recliner, a camel with a sombrero or even a "brand new car!" waiting outside. It's like standing at the threshold of the door in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as it swings open to a whole new world. A world where squirrels ring doorbells and underwear has a mind of its own. A world where people do beautiful, generous, things just when you're starting to lose faith.
Gayle Brandeis is an award-winning writer living in Riverside, CA with her husband and their two children. Her book, FRUITFLESH: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write, will be published by HarperSanFrancisco in 2001.