August 28, 2010

My Childhood Neighborhood

This has been another busy week at work, and the one night I didn't work late, I was busy enjoying the final night of a favorite summertime activity - a weekly outdoor concert. It was the only one I made it to this summer, primarily due to the excessively hot weather we experienced. So while I can't say the dog ate my homework, I still think I have a decent excuse for being late with my writing assignment from Mama Kat.

The topic was one I had to write on. My family moved quite a bit, but there was one house that we all think of as home. We lived there a little over 6 years, from shortly before my 3rd birthday, until shortly after my 9th. It was the last house we lived in as a family, as my brother was 18 when we left that house to move out-of-state.

It was in a wonderful neighborhood, filled with cottage-type brick homes, most of which were painted, keeping them from looking alike. There were big trees to climb, and to provide lots of shade. The only flaw was that, in the entire time we lived there, there were never any families with kids my age in the neighborhood. But there were plenty of kids the same ages as my older brother and sister, so it wasn't often that I noticed.

With my sister and brother in front of the last
house where we all lived together.

Our house was on the corner of the block. At our end, there was a major arterial street, and at the other end there was a creek, where we were forbidden to play. Those boundaries created a tight, well-defined neighborhood. I always knew that my brother spent time in, um, around the creek, and I remember one Saturday when my sister and I found ourselves in the general vicinity of the creek, as well. OK, it might have been more than the vicinity of the creek. I thought maybe our parents wouldn't find out, but apparently the mud on our shoes was a giant tip-off. That was the last time I went anywhere near the creek.

It was the kind of neighborhood where everyone knew their neighbors. The houses were built right before World War II, and they were among the earliest houses to feature attached garages. What they did not feature was central air conditioning, so people spent lots of time outside during the summer months. And no one had a privacy fence. We probably would have been suspicious of the mere concept of a privacy fence. I can imagine people wondering, "Just what are they trying to hide?" No, we could see everyone's backyard through good old-fashioned chain link fences, the kind of fence a kid could climb. And climb, we often did since it was much easier than walking around the block to the street behind us.

Since there weren't kids my age, when I wasn't tagging along with my siblings, I often visited the neighbors' houses. The Hollands lived next door. I think they were probably in their late 50's or early 60's. They had a son who was grown and he lived in another state. Maybe it was because they didn't get to be around their grandchildren, but they always seemed delighted for me to stop by and visit. Mrs. Holland took me out once a year for ice cream. At Christmas, I loved to go see their flocked Christmas tree, filled with pink ornaments. I was convinced the Hollands must be rich.

There were other interesting neighbors, including two houses owned by a couple of single women, Marie and Ruthie. Marie was kind of flashy and she always drove T-Birds. Next door to Marie was Ruthie, who was kind of the anti-Marie, totally down to earth. I still remember the Saturday afternoon I stopped by to see Ruthie and she was talking about those poor astronauts who had died in a fire. I always flash back to Ruthie's living room whenever I hear anything about Apollo 1 and its lost astronauts, Grissom, White, and Chaffee. Ruthie had her house painted every year or two, always making a drastic color change. I remember one time it was brown, then it was avocado green. It was even harvest gold at one point. To tell you the truth, nobody liked the gold.

A couple of houses down from Ruthie was the Kitchens' house. Mr. Kitchen was the self-appointed landscaping cop for the neighborhood. If you didn't keep your hedges trimmed to his satisfaction, he would show up and do it for you. (We might have learned that lesson the hard way.) The Kitchens did have something that I loved - a couple of granddaughters who were close to my age. And despite my family's low landscaping standards, Mr. Kitchen didn't mind letting me in the house to play with the girls when they visited.

During summer months, my sister and her friends often ventured beyond the confines of our immediate neighborhood. They had no choice but to were nice enough to let me tag along. Across the street from our neighborhood was a neighborhood much like ours, except that it melded into an area full of mansions that had been built by oil barons in the 1920s. Sometimes we would walk through that area to a museum that was located in one those fabulous houses. Mostly we would spend the afternoon on the magnificent grounds, with a beautiful gazebo, ponds, a summer house, and terraces. Sometimes we would go inside to walk through the rooms that had once been home to a family, imagining what it would be like to live in such a grand place.

Other days we would walk up the street to a nearby business area that, despite it's original designation of "suburban" shopping, was not unlike the main street of a small town. It was filled with  a treasure trove of places to visit. There was a small family-owned grocery store, with the most wonderful bakery in the back. Long after we moved, we continued to go back and visit the bakery. Next to the grocery store was a pet store where I loved to look at the puppies and kittens. Across the street, there was a movie theater. I wish I could tell you we spent lots of summer afternoons at that theater, but I can't because there were two entire summers when the theater played The Sound of Music. (It began the summer after I got out of kindergarten, and it didn't leave until the Christmas I was in 2nd grade.)

Those businesses are all gone now, replaced by bars and upscale shops. The neighborhood, too, has become much trendier, but has still managed to avoid the McMansion craze of many neighborhoods in that part of town. Privacy fences have replaced the chain link fences, and I'm sure like most neighborhoods, central air has changed its flavor making it the kind of neighborhood where neighbors don't really know each other.

Of course our city has changed, too. It's not as safe as it once was, and I can't imagine allowing girls to wander off as we did, to explore surrounding neighborhoods on summer afternoons. And there aren't many parents now who would allow their young daughter to go visit the neighbors alone. So although the neighborhood still looks much the same, the neighborhood that I knew is gone forever. The people who live their now have no idea what they're missing!

Be sure to go over to Mama Kat's and check out the work of others who accepted this week's assignment!

Until next time,


  1. oh, i loved this neighborhood memory. mine
    was very much like that. neighbors were
    everything! mine were eric graham, leslie
    gimlin, cheryl steele, and bryan barron.

    i'm guessing your neighborhood was near

  2. you probably think i didn't even READ this.
    i meant my neighborhood was like yours.
    i had the improvement of lots of kids my

  3. I loved reading this story. I grew up in a neighborhood that backed on to a creek and was filled with kids. One of my sisters now lives in a place like you discribe. Old houses filled with yuppies.

  4. This reminds me so much of the neighbourhood where I grew up too, on Vancouver Island. I have a picture of my childhood home as my wallpaper on my computer at work.

    But times have changed, haven't they? Sadly...

    You're a good writer.

  5. Katy and Jo,

    As I have read some of the other posts on this prompt, I have amazed how similar the neighborhoods sound. I guess we're more alike than we realize!


  6. I love this post! I like the end where you said that our AC keeps us from getting to know our neighbors--for me that was such a "light bulb" statement! I never thought of it that way.

    It was fun to read about your childhood neighborhood!

  7. This sounds like a good old-fashioned neighborhood ... and a great place to grow up in.

    We moved around a lot too but there is one house that I think of as "our childhood house." I still dream about it.

  8. A lovely remembrance Margaret. Your writing awakened lots of similar and long-forgotten memories. Thanks for the trip back home.

  9. I've always been jealous of people who had neighborhoods!!!

    I grew up in the country and my grandma was a half a mile away from me...and the next neighbor about a mile away. Walking or riding a bike to a neighbors to play just wasn't an option!

    Cool pic of you and your siblings!