Peeking Into the Past

I think I’m an open house junkie.  I love them.  I love walking into other people’s homes, especially homes that haven’t been updated, looking at pictures, and wall paper and kitchens.  I like to look at spaces and imagine what was and what could be.  I wonder about the people who lived there and what their lives were like when their homes were new and active and busy.

I’ve walked into homes where sadness lingered in the air like a heavy fog clouding the atmosphere and I’ve walked into homes where a life of contentment shined through like the sun.

I marvel at how families survived, no thrived, in houses with tiny kitchens, small dens and unfinished basements, and wonder why what was acceptable and probably marveled at forty years ago, is less than desirable today.

One house that I looked in had so many great pictures on the wall that I remarked to the agent how much I liked them.  She told me that she had tried to get the owner to take them down, but he refused to remove all his pictures.  Then she went to the wall and pointed to a picture of a whole gaggle of kids sitting on a lawn.  She told me that when the subdivision was built, twenty five kids lived in the neighborhood, the picture was of them. Of course, the way the town developed, made it hard to tell that this house was once part of a subdivision, named after the farmer that sold off his farm to a developer.  Now, it’s just an aging, nice neighborhood, where families are trying to get a little under a half a million dollars for homes that haven’t been updated since the sixties.

The house wasn’t for me.  The space all wrong for my family and too small, I’m ashamed to admit, since I knew four children were raised there, but I loved that picture.  I loved the fact that there was a neighborhood with plenty of children to play games of hide and seek, kick the can, or just ride bikes.  I loved that a child could walk into their neighbor’s house everyday and see that picture, see that someone besides their own family cared about them, looked out for them and possibly loved them. These children were part of a larger community.

Discovering a neighborhood where neighbors cared for each other, socialized together, still sat in lawn chairs together, even after all these years, was like discovering a small piece of Americana that seems to be disappearing.

There was an open house right across the street from the house that had the picture. I went into that house too.  Again, immaculate and maintained, but to say it was outdated would be an understatement. The second house wasn’t for me, either, the Realtor, who I had a trouble finding because she was out on the back porch, feet up on a lawn chair, was a little odd too, but she also had stories of a neighborhood with monthly potluck dinners and summers at the shore that they these neighbors would take, together.  

I was a little envious.  In the four years that I have lived in my house, I have neighbors that I have yet to see or talk to, even with the almost daily walks we used to take around the neighborhood.  During the day, hardly anyone is home, either children grown or people working longer hours to keep up with their bigger homes and buy more possessions, things that we have come to believe we need to be happy.

I was also a little sad.  Once one of the neighbors had decided that it was time to move on to assisted living, the others had followed.  There were four houses for sale on the block. The plastic chairs, from their nightly pow wows sat empty, still on the lawn.

I know new developments, where children abound, still exist, but they are often in large towns that have no center or main street, just developments, like the town I live in, where the common question is not where do you live, but what development do you live in?  In neighborhoods that are more established and sometimes considered more desirable because of their small population, or main street, or active community, like the town I’m moving to, new developments were built on the outskirts, with houses on top of each other, set on narrow streets, a way for developers to maximize their profits.  Even with these impediments, I can see why they are desirable, soaring ceilings, granite counter tops, finished basements, no work required. Unfortunately, in these neighborhoods, a large portion of people, ourselves included, are priced out, and even though children abound, for many reasons, they are hard to find.

So, towns, like the one I’m trying to move into become spotty, with neighborhoods that are a mixture of children and people of all ages. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s different and harder when you just want your children to experience a child hood that is slowly becoming a extinct.  A childhood that isn’t punctuated by play dates, orchestrated with the adeptness of a political campaign, and monitored like the CIA, but a childhood of backyards and street games and neighborhood children.  A neighborhood where neighbors know each other and talk and people are seen beyond pulling in and out of their automatic garage doors.

If that neighborhood still exists, I hope I find it.



One thought on “Peeking Into the Past

  1. I hope you find that neighborhood too. You know I feel the same way here and I was thinking the other day how great this neighborhood was 20-30 years ago and how many children there probably were. It’s turning over slowly to new owners but I doubt it will be the same. Between dual working parents and so many planned activities, not many kids enjoy just playing with the neighborhood kids like we used to.

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