Where Goes the Neighborhood?
My neighborhood is a pod of houses, once on the edge, now in the middle of town. Next to mine is the Coca-Cola distributor’s family, who always give us a plate of baked goods and six-pack of bottled Coke during the holidays; and, on the other side, the Pepsi distributor’s family, from whom my father borrows tools.
Behind us lies the soccer field converted from an undeveloped clump of trees favored by imaginative kids like my brother and me, and high school hooligans with too much free time and, presumably, fake IDs. There is the neighborhood playground down the street, and the house I am convinced is a meth lab, not far from St. George’s Catholic church.
There were days my older brother Dan and I would visit our dad at work at the small Assemblies of God chapel a mile away. We rode our bikes by St. George’s, and curiosity got the best of us—me. So many summer afternoons we spent at the baseball diamond across the street. My brother played on a peewee team; I climbed over the bleachers, bored and sweaty. From the top bench I faced away from the field and stared at the long, steeply gabled roof, the blond, wooden cross, the quiet steeple. High church, even then, preoccupied me. The icons, the stained glass. Eucharist. Confession. On our rides, Dan and I would stop, sneak to the front door of St. George’s , and peak inside. The ceiling arched high and a crucifix hung on the far wall above an ornate table laid with silk and silver. The door was always unlocked; but, we never encountered anyone inside.
I always rode away feeling guilty, a gawker, a voyeur into holy places I had no business spying into with such a cavalier attitude.
Those were days we biked most places: the library, friends’ houses, church, the river, the 7-11. The bike took us everywhere; but, I coveted the neighbor girl’s Power Wheel, a battery-operated Jeep a child could drive anywhere. Anywhere he or she could imagine driving at 3mph—the possibilities. I played dolls with her so she would let me drive her Jeep.
We took spins around her backyard. The Jeep’s size and horsepower made it fairly useless on excursions more than a couple-ten yards. A person could walk faster—but why would they?
The Power Wheel remained parked next door, and I never got one of my own. My neighborhood remained the far reaches of my childhood travels, and everything seemed so natural and obvious. You don’t realize the work it takes for a semblance of stability until you’re the one constructing it. I was always going, and then going away; and, I never really grew to appreciate my home, not fully, I think. Friends tell me I am too hard on the place where I grew up.
Not until now did I realize, nor would I admit, that I am critical because I want it back, on my own terms. Terms impossible to meet in my world, as it grows and expands, and a plane can take me anywhere my car cannot.
I am critical because I feel like I can only manage sneak peeks into a memory of a neighborhood from which I have grown apart, and which has grown beyond the borders in my mind, and has acquired two Walmarts, and somehow makes me feel guilty. I feel reduced to a voyeur into a holy place existing primarily in the past, a place I have lost, or have lost track of.
Photograph “Bike” used under a Creative Commons license.