Friday, April 12, 2013

Come visit my neighborhood

Lily B. Clayton Elementary School
across the street from my house
Picture by Polly Hooper
Several years ago, my younger son who lives in a big house in a suburb north of Dallas, said to me, “I want to live in a neighborhood like you do.” I do live in a neighborhood, with all that implies, the kind Mr. Rogers meant when he asked, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” The houses are old (mine was built in 1922) and probably the red brick bungalow dominates, but we have two-story houses and even a McMansion or two with zero lot line (working to stop that trend); our houses also come in tan brick, stucco, painted brick, some with arched windows and vaulted ceilings, others with tall ceilings and crown molding.. But they all have charm. We always hope add-ons will be done tastefully to fit in with the décor; similarly, we hope each home owner will maintain his or her property to the level of the neighborhood.

From my front porch
Tall trees arch over our streets, forming a canopy that seems to shelter us. When I sit on my front porch, I can block out traffic and pretend I’m in a tree house, surrounded by oaks, crape myrtle, pecan, the great elm in front of my house (which is very old and worries me every time we have a storm). And I can listen to a railroad train a couple of blocks away—many would complain about that but I love trains and find the sound comforting.

We have an active, even pro-active neighborhood association with monthly meetings and a monthly neighborhood newsletter. Recently a national chain has started producing a slick magazine for the neighborhood, but I’m prejudiced—I like our traditional newsletter (maybe because I’m about to become editor). Our neighborhood association deals with the issues of buildings that don’t fit into the neighborhood “style,” from an office complex on the edge of the neighborhood to contemporary houses built in the middle, or the narrowing of the main road that runs through the neighborhood, a commuter route for many in our city, and the zoo, which is on the edge of our neighborhood. It sponsors everything from Easter parades and ice cream socials to Christmas gift baskets for shut-ins and the elderly. We also have a busy email list where people post about lost dogs and cats and stray dogs seen wandering. Neighbors looking after neighbors.

I live across the street from an elementary school, the building so old and beautiful that it’s on one or the other register of historic places, with its art deco touches and a goldfish pond in one of the basement kindergarten rooms. That school anchors the neighborhood and is the focus for many activities. I am lucky that grandson Jacob goes to school there. Every day I walk across the street to get him, and we spend our afternoons together doing homework.

My house in the snow
Photo by Susan Halbower
It’s the kind of neighborhood where a small group gathers each Tuesday night at the local café for supper. I love it for the camaraderie and because Tuesday night is meatloaf night.  A few years ago, when we had a heavy, wet snow, my neighbor across the street sent her teenage son to shovel my walk. When I tried to pay him, he said, “Oh, no, thank you. This is what neighbors do for each other.”

Last night my grandson and his playmates “discovered” a hole in my fence where my dog could escape. One of the little boys’ fathers came promptly to fix it, saying the boys hadn’t just discovered the hole—they made it and then tried to block it when they (probably Jacob) realized that Sophie might get away.

So, thank you Berkeley and Margaret Johnson and son Atticus and Jason Brown who mended the fence and Mary Dulle who encouraged me to go to dinner (and made me newsletter editor) and the Barrs and the Harrals and Lyn and others who join us on Tuesday night. And thank you to Jay and Susan, Greg and Jaimie, terrific neighbors who kind of watch after me. I can’t think of a better place to live.

My Kelly O’Connell Mysteries are set in a neighborhood, but it is not Berkeley—it’s Fairmount, which is just adjacent to us. But in writing of that neighborhood and the community spirit, I very much had Berkeley in mind. The houses in Fairmount are a bit older, with lots of Craftsman homes, and the streets are wonderful and wide, like they used to make them. But Fairmount and Berkeley share many characteristics.

Nope, I don’t want to live in a development or a high-rise or a condo in assisted living. When people ask if I’m considering selling, I say, “No. Not until my kids make me.”

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