I had clues growing up that our house wasn't an admirable one. I remember taking the bus home from elementary school and hearing a handful of children making fun of the house with the Christmas lights still up in spring. It was my house, and they knew it as soon as I ashamedly stood up to get off the bus. Dante had been allowed to climb onto the roof to trim the gutters with a strand of multicolored lights the previous fall, and neither he nor my mother had been keen for him to take them back down ("Why should we? He'll just have to put them back up again in a few months"). There weren't Santas or reindeer or anything like I've seen up year-round at some homes, but we were out of date, and it was obvious enough for the other kids to laugh at without my ever having to invite them inside.
Our yard was unkempt. A science teacher from the local middle school mowed our lawn in the summer months, once or twice a month. It was how he made money when school was out. At least once or twice that I heard of, the grass and weeds got so high that someone called the city to complain. We didn't garden. We didn't fertilize anything because, as my mother often said, "Why would I encourage the grass to grow?!" I loved weeding the rock beds as a child, but my mother wanted Dante to do it, and he wasn't interested. Sometimes I could convince her to give me $2 for my work since she'd planned to give Dante $20. She complained that I didn't always get the entirety of the root and the weeds would come back. "If you can't do something right, don't do it at all!" she'd say. I think that's why our house so rarely experienced weeding or cleaning in the first place. An all-or-nothing attitude toward cleaning and home maintenance is a great way to end up in a dilapidated building surrounded by garbage.
The time that really sticks out in my mind though was one of the times Dante totaled a car. It was the white Camaro. I didn't have a car yet, and Dante had already totaled at least one or two cars before the Camaro, so we were probably thirteen and twenty years old respectively, give or take. Our mother had always given him a pass when he wrecked a car ("It was raining! What was he supposed to do?") and the Camaro allegedly wasn't even his fault. According to Dante's retelling, a woman had crashed into him turning left while she had a red light. Other witnesses had said she had a green light and Dante was speeding, but as my mother said, "Dante still had the right of way!" Regardless, his car was totaled, and the other driver was uninsured, so his insurance was covering everything that was going to be covered. Dante also had to go to court.
Our mother was furious at both the other driver and the situation itself. She insisted Dante's crumpled white Camaro be parked at the top of our circular driveway. She took a large sheet of white poster board and wrote in Sharpie with her perfect penmanship, "This is the result of an uninsured driver." She taped her poster to the side of the car, facing outward so it was legible from the street. She seemed surprised and indignant when someone called the city to complain. The city told her she couldn't do that. It didn't matter if what she wrote was true. It didn't matter that she was angry. It didn't matter that it was "on her land;" it was a neighborhood eyesore. In case you're wondering, we didn't live in a particularly nice neighborhood. It was a middle class block of split-levels and ranches with two to three bedrooms each. There were no Homeowner's Associations back then. We had the largest, most expensive house on the block, as my parents liked to brag. It just also happened to be an eyesore.