Thursday, July 14, 2016

These Old Walkin' Shoes: Right Next Door

Walking home from my parents’ house the other evening, I looked up at my attic window and thought back to my childhood for a moment. The woman who lived in the house where I live now when I was a kid used to watch the antics of the children in the neighborhood. I was reminded of all the stupid stuff I did as a kid and how I would get called out on it.

The neighbor would occasionally sit in the attic window when my sister and I were playing in the backyard of our house. Now that I own the house, whenever I walk into the attic, I glance out that window. It is very easy to see over the neighbor’s roof into my parents’ backyard. Sound carries right into the attic, so it’s easy to see how she may have been attracted to watching us for entertainment.

We had a back patio on the house. It was raised a bit and had a railing. One of our favorite things to do was to pretend that it was a ship. We would have to occasionally run the railing to make sure no pirates were approaching the ship. Every time we walked on railing, she would call out for us to get down and be careful. I’m not sure my mother cared for her intervention, but as kids we were scared of the neighbor. She was almost the witch of the neighborhood in our minds. As I entered adulthood, I realized that she had our best interests at heart. No one wants to see a kid get hurt.

It was like that when I was growing up. Thirty years ago, people were out in their yards, and all the parents watched out for their children as well as the other kids from the neighborhood. We didn’t need Facebook. The front porch telegraph was enough to keep us honest. No one wanted to have someone’s mother call about something we had done. The phone was our biggest fear in those days.

We were always polite when at our friend’s houses. Every indiscretion somehow found it’s way back to my mother. I walked the wrong way home. The phone rang. I used profanity towards a friend. The phone rang. We were probably kept somewhat safe with the intervention of our neighbors. As a kid, we hated the mothers talking with each other. As a parent, we want exactly that. It’s strange sometimes how things change with new perspectives.

When we were looking to buy a house, we knew that we would have a family. That played into our decision. We wanted a neighborhood where the kids could play with other kids. We wanted to be able to walk to a neighborhood school. We wanted to live in a neighborhood where it was a close-knit group of people who would watch out for each other.

Wendy grew up in the country where there were no sidewalks, but there were high speeds. It was difficult to visit friends. Living in the country has some great pros, too. We love gardening, and the country has space to do that. If our kids decided to go into 4H, we would have space for that.

Meanwhile, I grew up in the city of Lockport on the east end. I walked to Washington Hunt right from the first day of kindergarten. In fact, I never rode a bus until I went to high school as a sophomore. We had kids roaming our neighborhood who became ready playmates. Obviously, the neighbors looked out for us. When we saw the house for sale while visiting my parents, we looked at it, loved it and bought it.

Seventeen years and four kids later, we’re still here. It is exactly what we wanted. We have a relatively large house with enough space in the yard for a small, but functional garden. That yard seems to have become the meeting spot for all the kids in the area. There are always kids at my house. And the neighbors still butt into our business. It’s perfect.

Sometimes, I get a little nostalgic about the neighborhood. The old guard has passed, but a new generation of young parents are filling in. When we first moved in, the streets were just a tad too quiet. Today, the sounds of children playing echoes between the houses. The biggest change for me is seeing Mott’s field lay fallow without football games or general tomfoolery. All the trails we so carefully mapped through the woods are all overgrown from disuse, although my kids want to walk back there and see one of the old forts I built three decades ago.

Still, this is the place where I want to live. I love Lockport, and I love my neighborhood. It is where I want my family to grow and mature, and eventually bring their own children when that time comes. Every time I walk along the streets, I’m reminded of those long-ago days with great friends. I’m reminded of home.

Craig Bacon has lived on the same block for 35 years. He has seen the pulsing heart that is a neighborhood. It beats with his.