Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Can you come out and play?

In Oklahoma I often hear the saying "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute", and it's true. I've been thinking about this concept in terms of the configuration of neighborhoods - specifically my neighborhood. I've learned that the face of the neighborhood changes from year to year. If I don't like something...just wait a year. It may resolve itself.

Our street is a short one - one block in length running east/west with about a dozen houses facing each other across a curbless river of blacktop. The street is bookended by north/south streets, but our block seems like a little community all its own.

In the five plus years we have lived there, the face of that community has changed. Two women have died of cancer, one elderly and one middle-aged. One elderly man, a respected fixture in the broader community of Bethany, died of a heart attack. At the time of his death he owned about 50% of the houses on the block and was a self-admitted lousy landlord. Since his death all of his properties have been sold off, some to home owners, a few to other landlords.

Over the five years some homes have been renovated or repaired. Some have continued to deteriorate. But what has changed the most is the faces of the people who occupy the houses. The block has become more racially diverse. When we first moved in, we were shocked by several neighbors expressing their relief that we were not, shall we say, people of color, although it was expressed in a much more inappropriate way. We had just returned from living in post-apartheid Johannesburg, South Africa. We had told ourselves America didn't behave that way. Well, apparently some parts of America do.

Besides the racial mix, the other thing that has changed is the number of children. At one time there was one lone child, a spattering of teenagers, and a bunch of grumpy adults. Recently our street seems to have exploded with children. Children running and biking and shouting. Children climbing our fence and hiding behind our cars and running through our yard.

And I LOVE it! It feels so alive. Plus it provides great entertainment.

Just yesterday evening Mark, Tessa and I were watching television and surfing the Internet on our separate laptops when we noticed a small boy, stripped down to his shorts and running gleefully through our sprinkler. When the timer dinged and Mark went to turn the water off, the boy told Mark "That was fun! I'll be back tomorrow!". That cracks me up!

Of course, I have been heard to say "Where is that child's mother?" more than once and we don't allow them to run amok on our property. But we do let them run, and hide, and apparently - enjoy the sprinkler.

The sad part - I know very few names. In a world where we long for community, we live side by side with nameless people. Oh sure, we wave, we share a moment of frustration together when the city digs a big hole and doesn't come back for a week. A few men gather on the street to analyse the clouds when the tornado sirens sound. But we don't invite one another in for a cup of coffee. We don't know the names of the children.

I'm not sure what the remedy is. But in the mean time, I'm enjoying the ungraying of our street.


Cari said...

I'm glad to see you're embracing the place and its diversity!

I don't think you don't have to be best friends w/ your neighbors-it's great if you are, but the reality is that you won't always have a lot in common with those you share a street name with. just a thought...

Shari said...

How fun. Do you remember that mom made us walk to the curb and down the street to Patty Brock's house so that we wouldn't be continuously scampering across the neighbor's grass to get there? Or was it that the neighbor was grumpy?

Stephen said...

Ooh ooh! (raising hand) I remember trying to build houses out of cards at Patty Brock's house. And there was a plastic creeper (the thing you roll yourself under cars with to work on them) that looked like a lot of fun but wouldn't go where I wanted it to. Oh, and the public swimming pool and the park. Memory's a weird thing. Wonder what else is buried in there.