A few days ago I was driving on the new, wide boulevards of the town where I live, and it got me thinking about neighborhoods. It’s been a trend in the last 20 years to build towns from the ground up. This is one of those towns. The up side is that the roads are new and wide and ready to accept the volume of traffic that will surely come. The down side is that no matter how artfully designed these places are, they will only be a pale imitation of neighborhoods that have grown up over many years.
There’s something intangible about history. The passing of years gives a place some weight. You can stand on the street and feel the layers of life that have built up over time. You can imagine the generations of children who ran, bicycled and skated over those sidewalks. In the town where I grew up, many young parents have brought their children to the beach to escape the summer heat. As the years passed crowds of teenagers gathered on the sand to get some sun and some attention.
My favorite memories are the people. They were a collection of ages, backgrounds and personalities whose regard for each other made it a true community. On summer days we ran through each other’s back yards, swam in each other’s pools and piled into our parents’ cars for rides to beaches and parks. After a heavy snowfall, shoveling the sidewalks was combined effort. When someone was sick, their family ate very well, thanks to the efforts of the other mothers.
No one had a lot of money. Most families survived on one income. It would be difficult to replicate that now. It’s almost impossible for a family to survive on one job these days. So the houses have gotten bigger and the lawns have gotten wider. The pools are in ground and instead of running through yards on both sides children are driven to activities of one sort or another. Were things better then or worse now? Not really, just different. In either case, children make their way.
So it’s just a bit of nostalgia that keeps me thinking of the way things were in my old neighborhood. It’s fun to think of those streets and sidewalks, above ground pools and games of touch football under the street lights. We played from telephone pole to telephone pole. There were usually ten to fifteen people on each team, boys, girls and every age. No one cared who won. It was just a chance to feel part of the group, to run and yell, to feel the strength in our legs and enjoy the sweetness of a summer night. Life was good.
Life still is good. Children still play and run and feel how strong they are. We still watch them and relive how much fun it was to be alive and have unlimited energy on a summer night.
What were summer nights like in your neighborhood?