Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Somewhere in America

Eventually, my husband and I bought a house in an emerging neighborhood on the opposite side of RiverTown. It's history was always that of a second-best but prosperous neighborhood, first of free blacks (some who had owned slaves, even) and then immigrant populations, sometimes uneasy with each other. It was full of interesting architecture. There were three Catholic churches within a stones' throw of each other, one for the creoles, one for the Polish, and one for somebody else. Across from that church, at Christmas, one family put out tinsel-decorated plastic flamingos driving Santa instead of reindeer.

The depredations on the neighborhood started with World War II. They cut down all the trees next to the river to put in docks and factories. When the war ended, the reason for all this shipping ended. Trade veered elsewhere, and the neighborhood had neither money nor green space.

A brief revival ensued in the 80's, when gay men began to reclaim the houses and start small businesses. Then the HIV epidemic swept through, and their property was foreclosed and abandoned again. Still, there were outposts here and there. We lived a block away from a nationally-known gospel singer, for instance. There was no dry cleaners, no grocery, but a couple of artists' studios and some new restaurants. Things were moving up, although, the 1970's era apartment complex on my block needed serious demolition. The corner grocery across from it was closed, I think because the owner of the store was into meth and paranoia. He never bothered us though, because he rarely came outside. Eventually he was arrested.

I proceeded to make friends as best I could in the neighborhood, essentially starting over. One voluble homeless man would borrow money from my husband--and pay it back. Another time he came over, scared to death of vampires. I gave him a rosary and a sandwich and assured him he would be all right once he got some sleep.

The next-door neighbor on one side was missing fingers from being tortured in El Salvador. She wanted us to get rid of the banana trees that were sending shoots into her rose garden. The neighbor on the other side was a strong family woman raising her grandsons and supporting a brother. Solid citizens across the street. Other neighbors  made dinner in their homes and took orders, sold them on the street without benefit of food handler's licenses. We had fresh fruit deliveries from some man who would start shouting over a loudspeaker very early in the morning. And on Sundays, a different truck with a different loudspeaker would drive through, witnessing for Jesus.

On my days off, I would sit in the backyard under the trees, and lose time. Some previous owner had paved it, so instead of mowing we had gardening. Entire afternoons would disappear, either working with plants or enjoying them. I drank coffee outside nearly every morning in peaceful bliss.

4 comments:

Bob G. said...

Ann:
WE had those "hucksters back in Philly...best damn bargains around when it came to FRESH producs.

I miss those days.

:)

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.
Not only is the fruit good at a sidewalk stand, you actually get to talk to people like neighbors when you buy it!!

Ann T.

Slamdunk said...

You are good at adjusting to your cirumstances. Perhaps a garden retreat would do us well here, but my green thumb is not quite green yet.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I was fortunate in that RiverTown will grow a wide variety of plants w/o too much green thumb required.

Mostly I just sat and enjoyed. Nature does most of the work.

Ann T.