The WP Daily Post prompt—NEIGHBORS
Something tragic happened in the old neighborhoods where I grew up back in the day. Back then, most of the businesses up and down 31st Street—from South Park to Michigan Avenue—were owned by our neighbors. There was a dry cleaner and a hardware store, both owned by the parents of kids I went to school with. The Griffins owned the funeral home on 33rd Street.
On warm summer mornings, we’d sit on the stoop in front of our house and watch the watermelon man go by on his horse-drawn wagon. The horse dropped huge dollops of manure as it wobbled past the houses. The watermelon man would sing out how sweet his melons were and our moms would shout back, asking the prices.
Girls jumped double dutch, knotted rope or twine into pop bottles and combed “doll” hair. Boys rode their bikes up to our nearby schoolyard to play basketball or football. We never worried about getting shot or even being beaten up. The neighborhood bully could be checked as quickly as it took to get to an adult’s porch and tell on him.
In the evening, we’d get washed up and change into our “clean clothes”. Girls would get their hair combed, and slather Vaseline or Jergens Lotion on our freshly bathed legs and arms. Then we’d sit outside on the porch with our families to catch a cool breeze before finding our friends.
Teachers, preachers, mailmen, bus drivers, janitors, factory workers, and politicians were all neighbors. Many of us lived in the same apartment building, and children saw a variety of lifestyles fueled by a variety of economics. We were provided the visuals to choose the lifestyle we wanted.
Childhood friendships knew no economic bounds. Thus, kids received mentoring from dentists, and funeral directors; and old dapper, streetwise philosophers taught boys how to dress and be a man.
As the young adults became more educated and liberated, they moved out of the community and only returned for church or to visit with parents who had opted to stay behind. Many businesses moved south or to Hyde Park, or Pill Hill (following the doctors) and left vacant storefronts behind. On Sundays, my father would drive us to the “suburbs” to look at the single-family houses on Pill Hill.
Over the years children of families who hadn’t moved to “better neighborhoods” neither saw nor interacted with as broad a range of professionals. This exodus, some say, may have been the beginnings of the breakdown in the urban community. However our parents instilled in us the will to achieve. They stressed college and talked about their desire for us to accomplish more.
The violence that’s taking place today is a far cry from what I experienced in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t know what the answer is, but almost all of my friends’ fathers lived with them and were the heads of their homes. A lot of mothers didn’t work, and we never realized we were poor because we had love. Expectations were high, and we didn’t want to let the elders down!
What was it like where you grew up? If you could change something or add something to today’s urban neighborhoods, what would it be?