Thursday, September 27, 2012

There Goes the Neighborhood

"Lots of people are moving in and out of our neighborhood," my daughter observed last night. I'm not sure that the present turnover rate is much different than the average rate over the 2+ decades we have lived in our home. Maybe it's just that some of the recent moves have directly impacted our daughter. Or maybe she's just now at an age where she is recognizing this kind of thing.

Then my daughter said something that surprised me. "It was kind of sad when the Browns* moved away." (*Names changed to protect the innocent.) I immediately understood that she was talking about our former neighbors of more than six years. But that was not their surname. It was the surname of our neighbors' step-grandchild who lived with them only temporarily. I realized that this connection was the context through which my daughter interpreted the entire family.

My mind jumped back to my childhood neighborhood and I understood that kids see neighbors and neighborhoods differently than do adults. Although I had interacted with many of my neighbors for most of my life, I didn't even know the surnames of many families in the neighborhood until I became a newspaper carrier and had to collect subscription fees from these people each month.

Nor did I have any clue what most of these people did for a living. I knew that one friend's dad worked for the U.S. Forest Service because he drove an agency truck. I knew that one lady down the street worked at a local pharmacy because we'd see her working when we went there. I knew that one guy worked for the local Wonder Bread bakery franchise because his mailbox was painted like a loaf of Wonder Bread and his family gave out miniature Wonder Bread loaves for Halloween treats. My scoutmaster worked as an engineer at a firm that did some kind of high tech stuff. But I had no idea what that meant.

Most of the adults in the neighborhood were only relevant if I had a connection with one of their children. Or if they were known to be prone to getting after kids that happened to wander across their yards. Or if they taught us at church. Even then I usually didn't know what they did outside of that context. People went to work. People came home from work. As a kid, it made little difference to me whether they were accountants, clerks, maintenance workers, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs, or just about anything else.

School teachers were a rare departure from this paradigm. I was shocked the first time I understood that one lady in our neighborhood was a school teacher. The idea that the teachers and administrators at our school existed as normal human beings with families and normal life concerns boggled my mind. We considered them akin to some kind of alien breed that existed only within the context of school. When I understood that some of them had kids my age that had ordinary struggles with schoolwork, I thought, "Whoa! Is that even possible?"

Adults and children tend to view the neighborhood culture somewhat differently as well. By my count, about 42% of the homes in our current neighborhood are inhabited by their original owners (or at least the owner that lived there when we first moved in). Some homes have turned over only once over the space of many years. Others have turned over frequently.

These transitions, as well as normal aging, can gradually change a neighborhood's personality as residents come and go. Our neighborhood now has mature trees. It is still filled with children, but there are far fewer of them than there were during the first decade we lived there.

People that don't feel like they 'fit' a neighborhood's personality tend to move out before long. That was the case with the neighborhood where we lived when we first got married. It wasn't a bad place. We just felt like we belonged somewhere else.

Kids that have lived in one neighborhood during most of their formative years tend to see the place with a certain sense of permanency. Our kids are sometimes shocked when we tell them that we plan to move when we are empty nesters. (That's still a long way away.)

The thought that we would sell our children's childhood home, which seems at their current stages of life to be the main repository of everything they hold dear, comes across as jarring to them. But we won't need all of the bedrooms and stairs when we reach that phase of our lives. And I suppose our kids will eventually come to realize that the structure is not as important as the unseen ties that bind us together.

My travels regularly take me past the home in which I grew up. I have mixed emotions each time I drive past the place. The adult in me says, "Good riddance." I took on significant property care responsibilities during the last five years my parents lived there. I'm glad that Mom lives in a more manageable home now.

But the child in me feels certain pangs every time I see the old family homestead. Illogical as I know it is, it's as if the physical place somehow actually contains countless priceless memories. I'm not sure this will ever be fully resolved in this lifetime.

1 comment:

Peggy O'Neill Clarke said...

We also received miniature loaves of Wonder Bread as Halloween treats. So glad you mentioned it as I thought it had been a figment of my imagination!