The annual culture clash is in full swing along Bigelow Avenue, an all-American tree-lined drive on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill. A dozen or so...
The annual culture clash is in full swing along Bigelow Avenue, an all-American tree-lined drive on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill.
A dozen or so women — all Asian — pace the street from dawn to dusk, waiting for the chestnuts to fall so they can take them home to boil. As they wait, they poke through residents’ flower beds for any they might have missed. Some will eat their lunch on the porches of the million-dollar homes and relieve themselves in the bushes.
“No one really tells you when you buy your house that you’ll be sharing your yard for a month,” said Sharon Koss, who moved to this Queen Anne street 11 years ago. “The first five years I lived here, I barked at them when they came into the yard.”
Over the years, Koss has gotten used to the harvesters, who arrive in mid-September, when the chestnuts start to break from their prickly green husks.
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“I think of it as a unique feature of the neighborhood,” Koss said, “and I am at peace.”
Now Koss will refill water bottles for the women who ask. The other day, she looked up from the morning paper to see an elderly woman rise up from a crouch just outside her living-room window. When the woman turned and waved, there was nothing Koss could do but wave back.
“These people are my grandmother’s age. If they’ve got to go, they’ve got to go.”
But when the city of Seattle installed a portable toilet in front of her house for the women’s use, Koss reached her limit. “I didn’t pay what I did for this house to have an outhouse on the corner,” she said.
She’d like to see the toilet moved down the street to a nearby park.
The chestnut clash is part of living in a city filled with people from all over the world. It gives us a chance to learn about others — and ourselves in the process.
Jean Friar has lived on Bigelow all her life, and said people (including she and her brother) have picked chestnuts for as long as the trees have been there — some 85 years, by most estimates.
“First it was Italians and now … ,” she said, nodding at the women.
I watched with Friar and Koss as the women wandered in and out of yards, their heads down, their hands behind their backs, plastic bags full of chestnuts swinging behind them.
I never would have thought to do it myself, to recognize that muffled pop as the shiny brown chestnuts drop from the trees.
Kyong Lee, 66, takes the bus from Lynnwood to be here.
She’s never had any problems with neighbors.
“Nobody say it bothers,” she said. “These are good people. Nice people here.”
I asked her if she knew that some people pee in the neighborhood bushes.
“No way! You can’t do that.”
If she has to go, she asks one of the neighbors if she can use their bathroom.
“I can’t knock,” she said. “Only if they are outside.”
We stood there, the four of us, chatting about life. And each time we heard a muffled pop, Koss and I would chase the chestnuts — and hand them to Lee.
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday.
Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If only Honeycrisps fell like that.