Thursday, September 11, 2008

Evolution of a neighborhood

A flattering tribute to any street, I believe, is when folks move into the neighborhood and never move away. I am happy to say that our street is sort of like that—or has been for many years. We purchased our home from its original owner, an elderly woman who’d been here ever since she and her husband got married in the 50s, and our neighbor across the street is an original owner, too. A couple of other homes right around us are owned by single men—men who just happened to purchase the house from their grandmas. There is one rental nearby that I can’t quite figure out, but it’s a covert rental, and I suspect that the people in it are in the process of slowly buying the house from the landlord in one of those “rent to own” situations…so they’re likely not going anywhere, either.

However, when people love a neighborhood and stay long enough, they eventually begin to be forced from their homes by circumstance.

Earlier this week, Marcus looked out the window and asked me what the big fire truck was doing up there. Sure enough, a large red truck—paramedic rescue, not a fire truck after all—was parked at a neighbor’s home at the top of the hill. We know the woman’s last name just because it’s on a nameplate in the yard; we’ve never met her. But she is a neighbor. And she was coming out on a stretcher, looking not so good. It was big excitement for my son, because playing rescue is his favorite game—but a more sober moment for me. This is the third time I’ve seen an ambulance on our street, and each time someone was taken in one, it amounted to the last time I saw that person.

The original owner who remains across the way is the one who said it first: “Everyone who used to live here is dead.” And he should know: Until this week, his dear wife was the last person I saw carried out to an emergency vehicle—and she did not make it back home again.

It’s a bit unnerving to me, having grown up in a more rural area where you’d likely never notice an ambulance in someone else’s driveway because they’re a quarter-mile away. Perhaps many streets are like this, and I’ve just been protected from the harsh truth. But we’ve only lived here 2 years, and I even missed an ambulance farther down the street about a year ago; that means there have been 4 ambulances on our road taking people away. As in away, not to return. And this is not a long street. One of those ladies went to live in a nursing home, but she’s not coming back to her old ‘stead—because it’s been sold to a new gal with a little dog. And the woman who sold us this place? I hope she’s not planning to leave assisted living and move back, because she wouldn’t find anything the same—we’ve changed it all.

I like the fact that people don’t want to leave this little slip of a ‘hood…but it makes for some inevitable solemnity when you realize that slowly, surely, the face of this street is changing completely, and an entire founding generation will cease to exist here.

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