All posts tagged: Neighbors

Almost Paradise: My “Perfect” Small Town Wasn’t So Perfect

The author (second from the left, waving to the camera) and her Girl Scout troop. (Photo courtesy of Susan Ito) When I was growing up in the 70s, the kids in my New Jersey suburb ran unfettered through interconnected yards and played until the fireflies came out. At dinnertime, some were called home by cowbell or whistle; my mother stood on our back porch and walloped an iron Japanese gong that reverberated through the neighborhood. I rode my bike with the gold-speckled banana seat and high handlebars to the town pool; we’d go there of our own volition, without parents to drive or supervise us. This was freedom: to take our dollar to the snack bar and sit on plastic chairs, dripping pool water, eating baskets full of French fries spattered in ketchup. To jump in the deep end and play Marco Polo until our fingers wrinkled. Our neighborhood was, in so many ways, idyllic. My one-block long street was unpaved until I was 10, and I remember the gooey, sharp tang of fresh asphalt …

As a Motherless Child, I Was Raised by My Neighborhood

I was a child of the 70s, negotiating an evolving place in society for both my gender and my race. I was born Negro, eventually deemed Black and eventually accepted the term African American. The small South Philadelphia enclave I landed in clung stubbornly to its past, trying against all odds to assure its particular brand of denizens that all would be ok. We were assured by listening to the same music, getting baptized in Grandma’s lifelong church or hanging on corners where doo-woppers harmonized. As a girl, I would sit on my front steps as the summer days were cooled by the constant release of fire hydrant water — human-made fountains of refreshment that streamed on screaming kids and grateful adults. Cold winters were made warm by pots of food from neighbors, followed by gossipy phone calls between friends. But I was born an outsider; a permanent visitor to my ‘hood. I felt different. My arrival into this world came during a tug of war between my estranged parents. My mother, long distrustful of a …

Yes, You Can Be Creative in the Suburbs

Everybody knows the suburbs kill creativity. At eighteen when I was running away from them, I absolutely knew it to be the truth. When I first moved to the suburbs, I was twelve. For months, the whole family headed out after supper once or twice a week to watch a bare lot transform into a concrete basement, then a skeleton of wood, then a house with rooms and windows. It was built exactly like the model, only with all of my mother’s specifications. She chose dark green sculpted carpet and gold-threaded linoleum and green appliances, all the rage in the seventies. All through the spring, we peered through the windows, marveled at the shutters and the enormous, dead-empty backyard. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. We moved in June, right after school let out. In our old house, my sister and I shared a tiny room at the back of the house, barely large enough for our full-size bed and the dresser we shared. In the new house, I had a room of my own. My …

Nightmare On Dream Street: When Your House Falls Down

The home that brought Annette’s neighborhood to a dead stop — collapsed. (Photo courtesy of Annette Earling) After 23 years of living on a street that I loved — and after swearing that I would never be frightened or intimidated into leaving — I fled my neighborhood in fear for my life and the life of my family. A month later, the house that was the focus of my fear collapsed in the middle of the night, trapping everyone on our end of the block in their homes as electric wires sparked over piles of splintered plywood. Nice job, city of Philadelphia. My story — essentially one of governmental ennui — begins about two and half years ago when a lovely young couple bought a property on our quiet, dead-end street in the center of the fifth largest city in the U.S. Honestly, you couldn’t find a better street in any town. We’re a half-block from Broad Street and some of the greatest cultural institutions in the world. We have five of Zagat’s top ten …