Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Old Neighborhood

Hah. This post SO reminded me of the neighborhood I lived in until I was six.

We lived in a small, neat, brick house on Curdes Avenue in Fort Wayne. The neighborhood was a mix of blue- and white-collar workers, and many couples had kids the same age. We all played together, and got in trouble together, and ran into garage walls as we rollerskated together. My best friend was Chrissy, a shy brunette who I never fought with because she was so nice. (In a moment caught forever by the camera in our kindergarten class picture, I'm looking over at her while she smiles a HUGE smile for the camera. And she's wearing Fonzi socks.)

All the parents looked out for each other and each other's kids. If I was caught doing something bad by a parent in the neighborhood, I knew my parents would find out sooner rather than later. I still have vivid memories of Chrissy's parents and my parents getting together for dinner and drinks, and they would let me sit at the table while they gossiped about the crazy people in the neighborhood. (We had a few.)

My sister and I shared a room, one of those rooms with the slanted ceiling, and we had a television set that sat on a rolling tray. We'd roll the TV into our room to watch the Hardy Boys, and we'd fight over the line my sister always "drew" down the middle of the room because I was such a slob and she was such a neat freak. We had a black cat named Spooky, who ran away several times, the last time never coming home.

We moved to a bigger house in a (supposedly) better neighborhood when I was six. I was devastated we weren't moving to a house where I could get a horse, but that wasn't the worst part. I pretty much hated the new neighborhood, as did my brother and sister. The neighbors were standoff-ish and there was no one to play with. I never really realized it at the time, but I missed the old neighborhood a lot. The girls at my new school were cliquish and mean, and that carried into junior high until one girl's (the ring leader's) parents divorced and she had to move. I was "friends" with these girls, but it was an outside friendship - something they never let me forget. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I missed Chrissy and all my friends from the old neighborhood. It was just an ache that never really went away, like an old injury you just get used to living with. There was a certain code in the old neighborhood: You looked out for others as well as your own. Moving to a place where that code didn't exist was like moving to a foreign, hostile country where you have to learn the rules without knowing the language.

Whenever I go back to visit my parents, I think about that old neighborhood, and our tiny brick house. Occasionally I drive by it to make sure it's still standing. It's always even smaller than I remember. In my mind, there's a short story lurking somewhere about the evils of "better" neighborhoods and the danger of breaking unspoken codes from childhood. Someday I'm going to write it.

EDIT: On the other hand, I met another girl, an "outsider" like me, with whom I am still close. So it wasn't a total wash.


Whirlochre said...

This is a great theme for a novel, Freddie, and I'm sure from what you've written here, you could do it justice.

fairyhedgehog said...

I relate to so much of the original neighbourhood, although we didn't have a tv when I was little.

I hated sharing a room with my sister and we used to squabble over which bit was whose. If I could change one thing about my childhood, I would have my own room.

(And we had a black cat called Spooky, too!)

Bevie said...

Moving hurts young people more than parents realize. It's the main reason I'm not keen on leaving our neighborhood.

My old neighborhood is still there, but it looks so different with new houses up and old houses down and roads added, removed, or moved, it no longer feels at all like the place I grew up in. It's like that place is gone. I miss it.

Go for the story, Freddie. You can write a good one, I'm sure.

freddie said...

Thanks, WO!!

If I could have the old neighborhood back, I'd gladly share a room with my sister again. I think that's because I was waaaay more of a pain to her than she was to me (although I didn't think so at the time!). : )

It's funny. The old neighborhood really doesn't look that much different. The people have changed, of course, but even the little lawn-mowing store on the corner is still there. But yeah, definitely can see what you say about missing it.

McKoala said...

I love where we live now; the way the kids can pop in and out of one another's houses, although our kids are still a little young for that some of their older friends come by to visit us - it's great being so close to all our friends.

Robin S. said...

Neighborhoods do matter - they really do - and moving 'up' is so often not worth it.

We moved a lot when my girls were young - they never had that sense of place - and now that we've been where we are for several years, the youngest (almost 17) is adamant that we don't move. She has painstakingly built a group of friends and wants to keep them. My older daughter was too old and too shy to connect here at all - she was 14 when we moved here, only lived here 4 years, and was never happy - kept traveling back to visit old friends in another state on long weekends and during summer vacations. She's been living in a smallish college/seaside city in England for the past 3 years, and loves it there. That's where she's made her new 'neigborhood'.

freddie said...

Your neighborhood sounds wonderful, McKoala.

As a kid, I didn't like the idea of moving, either, Robin. Your older one sounds like she's having an awesome time in England. Are you going to see her when you go?