Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Mayberry. . . With an Edge

My neighborhood is a stitch!

Since moving from suburban Richardson to downtown Dallas in January 1999, I've learned a lot about communities and people by just living where I live.

Don't get me wrong. Richardson is a good place to live. It is my hometown. I grew up there. And, I must say, it has changed a lot since I left six years ago. But that is a story for another day here.

The suburban community I left was pretty much cookie cutter in nature. At least our part of town was. It was unlike the Richardson where I grew up.

That Richardson (1953-1968) reminded me of the Mayberry of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife fame.

Everyone knew everyone. I could ride my bike from one end of town to the other, and did frequently. My parents didn't seem to worry about me much at all. It was a different day back then.

Strange as it may sound, my current neighborhood in Old East Dallas near the heart of the city reminds me in many respects of that earlier Richardson. No cookie cutter housing or people or circumstances here!

The street where I live today is amazingly interesting.

At one end of my block is an old brownstone apartment complex, vintage 1940. At the other end you find very small bungalows built most likely after World War II. Alongside them are run down apartments owned by some slum lord who doesn't care enough about any of us.

In between you'll find a couple or three old homes, circa 1910-20, that have been divided up into apartments--at least one was once a boarding house. There are a couple of rent houses. The rest of us own our homes.

My house dates from 1922. Translation: there is something to fix or think about fixing all of the time! The old, two-story, frame house is actually fun to live in, even though the toilet leaks occasionally, as the house rocks and rolls on its foundation! We've been able to make a number of needed improvements--our eager contribution to neighborhood renewal!

Our neighbors all around are fascinating.

The couple next door has lived in their house for almost twenty years. On the other side sits an old house that contains three apartments where young people live and come and go. Across the street live a biology professor from SMU and his wife who manages properties in the area--we actually purchased our home from them. Beside them reside another couple. The man is a professor who teaches history at the University of Texas at Dallas. His area of focus is the Viet Nam era.

Our neighbors are white and black and brown. In the area most are poor. Others fairly well off. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle.

I see and talk to homeless people almost daily. Sometimes I surprise them rummaging through my trash cans.

People actually walk in my neighborhood, and not for exercise. People walk to get to places! Kids play up and down the street. Families and neighbors talk on big, old front porches.

Dogs seem to run wild! Cats are everywhere, along with an occasional raccoon and opossum right in the heart of the city.

Sometimes folks around my house worry about crime. Very few of us are afraid.

We do hear gun shots at night on a regular basis. Alcohol and guns apparently go together. And there are a few drunks, drug addicts and troublemakers afoot in the community.

We all stick together. We all know each other. There are regular block parties where everyone is welcome. We communicate.

In many respects I feel at times as if I am living in the late 1950s or early 1960s here.

Surprisingly, it is a bit like Mayberry, but with an edge! A very nice edge.


Anonymous said...

Larry --- I too live near downtown Dallas...having made the stretch from my home of 25-years --- Garland. I will always say with truth that it was a wonderful place to raise my "kids," who are now in their young adult years. However, Garland has changed, as has Richardson. Each reflect the overall changes in our cultural chemistry...inescapable. While young families continue to "escape" to further-reaching suburbs so their kiddos are not impacted by the changing chemistry of our culture, I see where their values support a more isolationist mentality over integration/diversity. (Let's climb into a bubble because there, all is well).

I will say that the beige nature of suburbs cannot compare with the neon offered through diversity. For me. I will accept that each person has to find their own space. Even if someone opts to live in a suburban bubble, they can teach their children the beauties of diversity and acceptance. I hope my "kids" would say that we did that while living in Garland.

I live in Southside, a large loft building where the century-old wooden floor's creaking reminds me of the impact of aging ( there a correlation here with the human physical condition, too?) One criteria for my relocation was that I live within a "human solar system" that was hiccuped with diversity.

And that I have found.

While I am half a century young, there are all kinds of humans around home, on the street, on the sidewalk, and at my place of service. To say life is exciting in that "solar system" is an understatement. The learning, wisdom, joy and a-hah! moments that come from living in diversity is worth more than any winning lottery ticket. Friends know I have coined my own mission statement --- "Live life in neon, not beige." And that truly reflects the solor system around downtown Dallas. And the world as created by Him.

James said...

Larry, I really enjoyed this post, and the post by anonymous. I live in upstate NY in a town that is much like what you describe. The whole concept of fleeing to the suburbs is so ingrained in our culture now, but seems to grate against the gospel. I don't mean to sound judgmental about those who move further out; I can sympathize with the desire for space and a newer home. It just seems we should make these choices with more than just our own personal interests in mind.

God bless.

BradW said...

Thanks for the Mayberry/Edge piece. I've often wondered, when business took me into old Dallas, what it would be like to live there. For us the suburbs are a compromise--my wife won't live any closer to a city than the newest suburbs, but would prefer the country. I'd kind of like the sort of funky urban mix you guys describe, but will settle for being able to visit from time to time. But I'm glad to hear it's survivable in Old East Dallas--maybe I'll change her mind one day.