May 10, 2006

Street Cred

I sometimes fear that I repeat myself here. If so, I hope things are as good the second (or third) time as they were the first.

When I was a kid, I knew my street like the proverbial back of my hand. First, I knew the neighbors, both the things I could prove and the things I suspected. I knew that the green house on the end was messy, inhabited by a four-person family who I rarely saw. I heard that the oldest son was crazy, evidenced by the rumor that he'd fired a shotgun shell with an icepick and a hammer. The family next to them had a cute daughter. She was the first girl I played doctor with. She and the rest of her family were chased out of their home one evening when a batch of copperhead snakes hatched in one of their air ducts. That was the rumor, anyway. Harold, our next door neighbor, divided his backyard in half, dedicating space to a beautiful, irrigated rose garden. He also had a mint-condition early 1960's VW Bug. I liked Harold and still think about him quite often. A few houses down was a guy who was building a small airplane in his garage. Across the street from him was a guy named Scott, who, at 17 became the role model for all the boys in the neighborhood. He drove a jacked-up Bronco. I wanted my first car to be a Bronco. Scott went of to college but returned too soon. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when he accidentally killed a motorcyclist and severely injured the rider's girlfriend. Scott was never the same after that.

I'm not just talking about the people, though. I mean the street itself. Minor miracles of concrete, complete with pebbles, cracks, dimples in a composition as unique as a fingerprint. There was the long crack down the length of the street; the streets sloped from the high center point to prevent flooding and standing water. Then there were the curbs. When we moved in, there were no curbs. I guess yards just ended and the street began. I don't recall. I do remember that the arrival of the curbs, the pouring of the concrete, was big news in the neighborhood. Word that we got to get our street address painted on them only added to the excitement. I remember the huge gash somehow cut out of the middle of the street; it made a killer bump for popping wheelies but proved a spot to avoid when skateboarding. And I remember the burn mark that never faded. It arrived one night, riding the back of a lightning bolt. We were watching the thunderstorm move through when we saw the lightning strike, 50 yards or so in front of us. I woke up early the next morning to investigate.

Most of all, I remember the cul-de-sac at the end of our street. A ring of shrubs close to the curb surrounded an ash tree. It was haunted. We had no proof, we just knew. The biggest dare among the kids on the street was to climb over those shrubs and climb the tree. None of us did it often.

My point? I'm not sure. Although, maybe it's this - in this age of immediate gratification entertainment, the Internet, television and all the other associated goodness that can, just as easily, be so evil, do any of us know our streets the way we once did as kids? And will our kids?

Posted by Chris at May 10, 2006 07:18 AM

How nice that you have those memories, (although that burn mark sounds scary) I hope Mia gets that comfortable and familar with her neighborhood. I moved every couple of years when I was growing up so I never had that, stay put during your kids' elementary years people!

Posted by: Nic at May 10, 2006 07:44 AM

I didn't live in a neighborhood as a child--I lived out in the middle of nowhere on an unlined county road. Our house was waaay up on a hill, with a steep wooded ravine on one side and a creek at the bottom. My brothers and I used to leave on our bikes or on foot on a summer morning and sometimes not return until evening, eating lunch at a friend's house 4 miles away. We had free reign of a neighboring farm--all 500 acres of it--and spent many hours exploring the woods and pastures.

My parents still live in the same house. The road still has the same potholes that I used to drive my bike through. But I'm afraid to let my kids play down there like I did, because the neighbors at the end of the street are not careful drivers like they were when I was a kid. And things are just different now.

Posted by: Alissa at May 10, 2006 08:00 AM

Its funny that you bring up this subject today b/c my fiancee and I were JUST talking about a very similar subject the other day... there's no kids running through neighbor hoods anymore, riding bikes and building forts... and that makes us sad, b/c I don't think they will know the streets the way we did.... My vow is to make sure my child KNOWS his/her street, both the people on it... and the areas around it...

Posted by: Stephanie at May 10, 2006 08:16 AM

No, and no, I don't think so. I can't imagine just letting my kids go the way our parents used to. Maybe I'm underestimating how it will be when my kids are 8 or so, but... It's one of the main reasons we're contemplating moving farther from Boston.

Nice post, Chris

Posted by: Kris at May 10, 2006 08:24 AM

cool post. I think the time of the free range of kids on bikes and skateboards is almost over.

Posted by: Bill at May 10, 2006 08:29 AM

I just moved out of my parents house into town on Main Street. My parents house was on the outskirts of town, which was nice, not too many kids to play with except the neighbor kids, but you didn't have to worry about traffic and whatnot. Now that I live in town, there really isn't that many kids that are out and about (there are barking dogs however)playing or riding their bikes. There really isn't that much to do in town. And I believe the world has changed since then, that parents can't feel that their children are safe enough to play on their own. There really is too many creepy, scary, wacko peoples out there that are just looking to snatch a child up these days. It's a shame.

Posted by: Michelle at May 10, 2006 08:36 AM

The neighborhood I grew up in goes in cycles - when we were kids there were many of us and all approximately the same age (give or take). And we knew every inch: every backyard, every crack in the pavement (skateboards don't react well to cracks). After we all grew up and graduated, there was a lull in kidhood activity, but then more and more appeared, and, just as quickly moved on. Now, it's starting again. But, I don't think the kids there today know it as well as we did - the sense of adventure and curiosity just isn't there.

We spent our entire days out and about only coming home for lunch or dinner. The memories of those days are still some of the strongest: bikes and ramps; Halloween mischief; house parties; and first kisses.

Now, after 35 years there, my parents are planning to sell. I'm happy for them, but the idea is still bittersweet. That neighborhood was what I knew for so many years, but it's not the same anymore. It has changed so much with people moving, growing up and, unfortunately, passing away. I think the saying "you can't go home again" holds some validity, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to try.

Posted by: Mr. Big Dubya at May 10, 2006 08:37 AM

I sure hope that my kids will have the chance to explore their street as much as I did as a kid. It's one of the reasons we're thinking of moving back to my hometown (which people jokingly, or sometimes not-so-jokingly, refer to as "Stepford") because it's so safe and it has such a sense of community.

Posted by: Jessie at May 10, 2006 08:37 AM

This is the main reason I moved out to the suburbs. I grew up on a "cul-de-sac" too (although in the south we call them "coves.") I wanted that for My Kid.

And I do think he'll have memories similar to yours. He plays with the other kids in the cove daily. They've got bases spray painted on the street so they're ready for a kickball or baseball game any time. (And they play baseball with a tennis ball to make sure they don't break anyone's windows.) He actually knows all the neighbors better than I do. I don't think there's any haunted trees though. Not that I've heard anyway.

Posted by: kalisah at May 10, 2006 08:43 AM

You pose an excellent question. When I describe growing up on my street to other people, I get accused of making it seem too idyllic on purpose. But everyone really did know everybody. And so many of us kids played with each other all the time. My best friends, three brothers, lived a few doors down and I practically lived with them growing up. We were constantly out and about, investigating, playing with other kids on the street, making our own fun. Most of the families have moved on now, but they are still considered good friends of the family and are kept in touch with. My parents remain on the street and when I go to visit them, it is always comforting to see that a new batch of kids making their way up and down the street on their bikes. So maybe there is hope.

Also, that story about the copperheads hatching in an air duct....officially my #1 nightmare now.

Posted by: smartjuice at May 10, 2006 08:43 AM

I'm glad to still live on the same street I've lived on since I was 9, just down the street from my parents now. I love living in an area where all the neighbors know each other and watch out for each other. I love that my kids can walk next door to play with the neighbor's son, or hike through the cow pastures and fields to go visit their grandparents. You just can't put a price tag on that - although the assessor's office sure keeps trying to. ;)

Posted by: Traci at May 10, 2006 08:58 AM

I started out in a tiny hamlet called East Frankfort, NY (and Frankfort was amall - think of how tiny E. Frankfort must have been). I knew everybody.

Those were the days when "it takes a village" meant something. I couldn't get away with a thing.

The up side? My brother and I could leave the house early morning, come back for noon meal (dinner), leave again until supper, and no one worried.

Posted by: ann adams at May 10, 2006 09:03 AM

DAMN! And here I thought this was leading to a tale of your current insane neighbours.

Posted by: Pamalamadingdong at May 10, 2006 09:10 AM

I've often thought the same thing myself. I knew all my neighbors and we'd leave the house and only have to be back by supper and then leave again and back by dark. Life seemed much more fun and we certainly didn't have all the gadgets to entertain us...we entertained ourselves.

The odd thing about my neighborhood tho is that we had 3 suicides, one suspicious fire and an embezzler...

We also lived on a dead end street that had a nursing home at the had a wing that housed the "children" that were born with mental deficencies (in the days when people didn't raise the children that were born with Down's, etc) and growing up we would go and play with the "kids". The nursing home would let them roam the neighborhood and they'd come and play with our toys, etc...

Hmmm...maybe we should have moved?

Posted by: daisy at May 10, 2006 09:25 AM

Our territory seemed endless. There was a gang of 20 kids or so from 4 or 5 streets around us who all played together. I remember HUGE games of hide-and-go-seek in the DARK during vacations. We moved from the house on that street when I was 11 or 12 so I know I was young to be allowed to leave the house for hours at a time on my bike. Every kid on the street had the same freedom. We had to come in when the street lights came on. Today, my parents would probably have the DSS case workers knocking on our door.
Would I let my kid do the same thing today? No. And that makes me sad. We now live in a very safe suburb outside of Boston, but we've had a serial rapist in Metrowest for over two years now. Kids today will have a very different experience (of constant and fretful supervision) than we did. I wonder how that will affect them as adults.

Posted by: kara at May 10, 2006 10:24 AM

I wish this could be, but I fear this time has passed. Not knowing neighbors, people not "rooting" quite the way they used to. Fear of sexual predators. It makes for tense parents and (for right or wrong) restricted kids that will not have the ability to wander as much as we did.

Posted by: Latte Man at May 10, 2006 10:33 AM

When the garage door was open, it meant kids were home, awake, and able to play. Sometimes that's all we waited for in the morning was the neighbors garage door to go up so we could go out and play in the street.

Not to be rude, but I see kids now days as being fat and lazy. Hell they dont even get recess at school anymore.

Posted by: Nik at May 10, 2006 10:35 AM

There used to be these two old sisters that lived next door to us. They never got married or anything, just stayed together. They would come out and talk to us all of the time. We'd play hide and seek with them (they had a beautiful weeping willow that was my favorite hiding spot). They also used to let us come over and help them bake cookies. Nowdays people are too guarded to let this happen, and probably with reason. Still it's very sad to think about what todays youth is missing out on.

Posted by: dragonlady474 at May 10, 2006 10:35 AM

What wonderful discussion! All the houses on my block had a unique aroma. Nothing always smelled like Aqua Net hair spray, and one always smelled like baked goods...mmmmm.

I, too, grew up in a small town. In the summers we'd get up, eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes and head outside by 8 a.m. We have an awe-inspiring baseball game and then grab some lunch of bologna sandwiches (yes, white bread with Miracle Whip) and red Kool Aid. We'd change into our bathing suits and head to the town pool (where a family membership cost $30 a year!) and horse around until 4 p.m. We rush home to eat dinner, get back on the bikes, and head to the baseball diamonds for our little league games.

What a great life! I wanted that for my kids, but both of them would rather be "entertained" by us, or the boob-tube, than by the outdoors or other activities.

Posted by: kristen at May 10, 2006 10:40 AM

Very True. Families also move and relocate more than they did back in the day too. Used to be a family bought a house and raised a family there. I remember things like that where I used to live. It's great to have those memories.

Posted by: Sabrina at May 10, 2006 10:48 AM

Dude, I was jealous of y'all growing up in neighbourhoods. (I just typed 'groin' instead of growing....) We lived in between 3 200+ acre farms and were therefore not close to walk or even ride a bike to anything or anyone. My closest friend was probably a good 10-12 miles away, and there was a HUGE hill in the way. Ne'ertheless, I did goet somewhat nostalgic. Ah well. I can pretend.

Posted by: andy at May 10, 2006 10:54 AM

While I agree with the majority here that today's youth seems to be 'missing' a lot, I feel obliged to point out that it is not their fault.

My neice's son (would that be my great nephew?) has a tv, vcr, dvd player and two video game systems in his room. Then she wonders why he's overweight and gets calls from his teachers that he's antisocial. Her solution? She had him change schools. And when her daughter turned 3, she too got her own tv, vcr and dvd player in her room...items my 15 yr old doesn't even have. (he does, however, have in his room a desk to study at and a weight lifting bench)

My solution? If you want your kids to spend more time outside, send them outside.

Posted by: fauve at May 10, 2006 11:05 AM

Ahh, memories. I grew up on a street like that, complete with great-grandparents living 100 feet away and "The Jungle" three doors down. My girls grew up with the kids of one family as friends and were allowed to go back and forth between the two houses (area was fairly rural and it was a big walk), but my son has grown up without roaming the street, having friends over or going to visit friends from school. He has two fenced acres, a dog, a bike, a basketball hoop, a weight bench, etc. so it's not like he's not active, but it's mainly solitary activity unless I go out and play horse or throw a football with him.
Why the difference? Well, it's tempting to blame it on society, or say it's too dangerous, etc. but what I really think is at the root of the change is the lack of stay-at-home moms/grandmas. If I were home all day, I am sure the kids down the street would end up coming by after school for cookies and a game of basketball. If the mom down the street was home, I might let my son go visit (although mine was always the house my daughters' friends wanted to hang out at) but, no one is ever around enough to develop a trusting relationship. Sad but true.

Posted by: Jaycie at May 10, 2006 12:13 PM

I think the answers to those questions depend on your involvement with your neighborhood, and whether or not getting your kids outside is important to you.

We live in a fantastic neighborhood, aside from the political bent of most of the residents. There are TONS of kids (Nik said something about open garage doors being the cue for readiness to play: that's the way it is here) in our neighborhood and they all cut through the yards to get to each other's houses. I let my nine-year-old take the "back way" to his best friend's house, one street behind ours. So he cuts through our backyard, the backyard of the people behind us, and then he crosses the cul-de-sac street to get to J.'s house. I feel completely comfortable letting him do that.

The rule in this house: if it's a nice day, kids go outside. My kids, their friends, whatever. No kids indoors when it's a lovely day. We also take family walks as often as we can (not as often as we'd like to, but we're working on changing that), so we know the streets, too. I know, personally, at least one adult on the three streets that make up the core of our neighborhood (the kids at the other end go to a different elementary school in our district, so we don't know them much); I think I probably know nearly everyone, come to think of it.

Sorry this was so long; I feel passionately about this, as my childhood was spent roaming my streets and ravines. I want the same for my kids. My only regret? My childhood neighborhood had a pool. I wish ours did now.

Posted by: candace at May 10, 2006 12:29 PM

What a cool post... it's fun reading about everyone's neighborhoods...

Where I grew up, it was a small neighborhood called College View...up, cause across the big road there was a college. Had an awesome sledding hill that we all would spend endless winter hours on. Also a little pond that would freeze over in the winter... IL winters are cold... We had a huge corn field at the other end of our neighborhood. We would get up and be outside all day until my dad would whistle for us... During the school year, the family that lived at our bus stop would leave their garage door up a little for us to use while we waited for the bus... if it was cold or rainy, we would stand in there. everyone knew everyone else. we used to open up the phone box on the corner and steal the little colored wires to make jewelry... after a while, the phone guy would just leave us a bunch on top the box.

I remember the neighbor up the street, they were really into all natural stuff, they had a garden and canned their own veggies... but the best thing? in their bathroom they had this big wooden box. they used to grow worms in it.

We used to ride our bikes down the big hill at the end of our street, usually having to jump off cause you would go so fast.

Thanks for the memories... this was fun.

Posted by: Karen at May 10, 2006 01:28 PM

Just reading this, it makes me think how great it is that the Internet and blogs make it possible for the repressed writers of the world (anyway in our paying jobs) to write such wonderful things. You're gifted at this Chris.

Posted by: Heather at May 10, 2006 02:10 PM

We live an a wonderful neighborhood where there are TONS of kids. Also very safe. They play in the streets... Everyone drives very slow. Its very community oriented. Almost like a small town. We are totally digging it.

As the children of antisocial parents, my hubby and I both grew up in rural areas where there were no kids around. This was incredibly boring and sucked. So we've always wanted our little guy to live in a place where he'd always have someone to play with. And now that we've found it, we're thrilled.

Posted by: Lisa B at May 10, 2006 02:46 PM

Good question. I think for the majority of kids these days the answerr is no :(

But I know what you mean... I knew my street like that too. The only good thing... like for my kids... is I live in the burbs... so maybe... just maybe they know it better then I think they do.

Posted by: Tammy at May 10, 2006 02:57 PM

I remember being a kid and being outside and playing or even inside and playing was what we did, there wasn't much sitting inside and watching tv or playing video games. I hope kids are still doing this and that parents encourage it instead of video games and tv to entertain them all day.

Posted by: Adi at May 10, 2006 03:32 PM

We knew our street. We had to - we had roller skates with metal wheels and you can be sure we paid attention or we fell on our keisters.
We just moved into a 'real' neighborhood last summer. My kids love it and my favorite thing? We have a 'crop circle' in the exact center of an intersection at the bottom of the hill where two of the roads lead to dead ends and the other two lead to each other. It's looks like permanent black tire marks - but the circle is PERFECT and there's no way to see where it began. It's a great kid landmark. I love that things haven't changed toooo much in this world of iPods and video games. Peace.

Posted by: Lilymane at May 10, 2006 03:38 PM

I think it depends on where you live. My kids know are neighborhood, but we walk the dog every night and they ride their bikes or walk too. And they know the neighbors too. If you live in the same area her entire life, then I'm sure she will. Kids notice things that adults don't think to notice. We are so busy, our minds are alwyas going. Kids find wonder in small things, like a bush that always has lady bugs.

Posted by: Melissa at May 10, 2006 05:45 PM

Nope. Like you, I knew every inch of my street. Knew all the neighbors and had been in their houses. I live in a very nice neighborhood right now and yet have never met two of the neighbors who live right across the street from me!! My kids are not having the same experience I did but they do have a lot of friends in the neighborhood. I guess we are just a very transient society now and different.

Posted by: DebbieDoesLife at May 10, 2006 05:52 PM

I lived on a cul de sac as well and we rode bikes & skateboards and played kickball. As ultra strict as my parents were, I was eventually allowed to ride my bicycle around the neighborhood. We also had a creek that ran in a deep, deep gully. It ran through the neighborhood and behind everyone's backyards for a good 3/4 of a mile. We'd follow it all the way and stop to fish for discarded junk. We'd be gone for an hour or two and no one ever thought we'd been abducted or murdered. It's different now.

Posted by: wordgirl at May 10, 2006 08:25 PM