The Changing Nature of the Neighborhoods

Category: Commentary


Because of the closeness and close-knit character of the neighborhood, the
families shared a lot of personal space, community time, and camaraderie. I knew
nearly everyone on the surrounding two blocks from my grandmother’s house.
Not to belabor the point, but my mother’s sister and brother-in-law lived
mid-block one cross street south of my granny. Interestingly, on one autumn
evening, a fire truck rolled up to my Aunt Gert’s house and apparently put a fire
out. My cousins Randy and Trent apparently were playing campers in the closet,
but the fire in the closet expanded to include the kitchen and the bedroom they
inhabited. As they were 2 – 4 years older than I, I refrained from commenting to
them until I was old enough to ride my bike without training wheels.
My dad’s sister, Aunt Cleo, lived about 3 blocks away, and while I was at her
house awaiting my grandmother’s return, something stopped the furnace from
working for a couple of seconds. Suddenly the furnace came back on, and right
after it started running, and there was a loud explosion. I didn’t know that my
aunt had begun treatment for Cancer, and wasn’t herself, but I excused myself
and went to track down the source of the shock wave.
After several blocks of walking toward the store that my uncle ran on the
corner of Cameron Avenue and West End Blvd, I could see smoke billowing
upwards into the clear sky along with fire burning the surrounding grounds. This
explosion took place near Skyland Park, and Skyland School on a main
thoroughfare into town from I-40 on East Fifth St. I went down into the Skyland
School neighborhood where the swimming pool and recreation center were
located and one could see the burning tanker trunk on the side of the winding hill
that ran upwards from the confluence of two streams circumscribing the school
property.
People began to gather to observe the progress of the fire, and the
presence of fire trucks and police vehicles. As the fire progressed through the
truck, the separate compartments exploded individually and progressed as if the

entire tanker truck would explode and people would need to run for cover. It
turned out that there was danger with the truck, and with an open gas line at the
bottom of the hill near the school. A friend, Vernon, warned the fire Department
about the open gas main. The fire department managed that potential fiasco
effectively. And on we went to other disasters in the neighborhood.
About this time of year, all the children in the neighborhood got really
excited about the approach of Halloween. This was the time of year that kids got
Halloween costumes for collecting goodies, and our school, St Benedict, let the
kids come to school donning their costumes and walking around the outside of
the school building making faces and grimaces toward the students still inside the
school building.
My cousin Reginald would come get me and take me trick or treating after
dark on Halloween. The house across the street from Mrs. Donohoe’s house had
the best Halloween goodies, a baked sheet cake of ginger bread for the trick or
treaters. We always said, “Rich Avenue had the best Halloween goodies.” We
shied away from 11 th St bottom, and 14 th street. Those were a ways away from
Camel Ave. And, once while returning from the Halloween gathering of goodies,
we were walking toward granny’s house and someone snatched my Halloween
bag from around my neck and took my double sided noise maker along with the
cake and candy goodies. My cousin said he knew who did it, but he never
recovered the things. I was really disappointed and upset. There would be other
Halloweens.

My cousin, always the one to get me into trouble with my grandmother
was up to no good again. This time it was the night in November when Peter Pan
was presented on the black and white tv, starring Mary Martin. My cousin
Reginald was at the house and we began to watch the show. After a while, there
was a knock at the door, and we alerted my grandmother as we weren’t allowed
to open the door at night. She came to the door, had a conversation with Mr.
Webb, closed the door, and went back to her bedroom. A little while later, there
was a second knock at the door, and my grandmother opened the door for Mr.

Webb and another gentleman, and they toted two number 10 tubs of something
sloshing around into my grandmother’s kitchen. After they dropped off the tubs,
my grandmother locked the door behind them, and went back to her room where
she read the bible or prayed in the evening until bedtime.
My cousin tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go bust the bubbles
in the kitchen.” Having no idea what he was even talking about, I said, “Okay,”
and off we went to the kitchen. In the kitchen were the two tubs of whatever the
men brought into the house, completely covered with water and having
something floating in the water.
My cousin grabbed two butcher knives, gave me one and said, “Stab the
bubbles!”
We both commenced to sticking the bubbles floating in the water with the
knives, and suddenly the room filled with the smell of pig “doo.” The more of the
bubbles we burst, the worse the smell got in the kitchen, and I said, “You stay in
the kitchen, I’m going back to watch tv where the air is fresher.” I had my first
encounter with fresh chitterlings, and my last.
The end of Peter Pan caught me asleep, and the night ended with me in the
back bedroom and my cousin gone home for the evening. My guess is that my
grandmother finished cooking the chitterlings, and the next day she distributed
them to the two men who dropped them off last night. I never needed another
refresher on what chitterlings were all about, and I have never eaten any.
In the spring of the year, when the weather became more pleasant, the city
would come to repave the street upon which my Grandmother lived and I would
watch the men with their machines—the ‘Roller man’ rolling over the gravel with
two large metal steam rolling wheels; the “Tar man” pouring tar on top of the
plowed up surface under the gravel that the dump trucks had poured onto the
tar. This followed by the steam rollers packing the gravel down into the tar. This
went on until the entire street from top of the hill to the bottom of the hill had
been resurfaced. The days at my grandmother’s house were very interesting for a

kid not yet in school who hadn’t seen all there was to see in front of granny’s
house.
And, right up the street, two doors up in fact was the little girl named
Angel, who always got a ride to school in a station wagon each morning and home
in the evening. She got that ride the entire time I went to grammar school, and
beyond, and even after I graduated from high school, she was still getting that
ride. I imagine, she always had to go to school, even though her contemporaries
had graduated and moved on. She had what I would later recognize as a
developmental delay from which she would never recover. I had often wondered
when she would go to school like the rest of we kids in the neighborhood, but she
later died of old age. She was fun to play with and talk with when I was a
youngster growing up, and she never advanced. She kind of represented the
neighborhood, always there and never outgrowing it, yet never seeming to find
her place in the society. There many kids in that condition, a condition known as
Special Education. I hope we treated those students with dignity and respect, and
I suspect it was insufficient. There is much in the community and the schools
where we could do better by the inhabitants as a nation.

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