Suppose someone came up with an idea today to build a community where each house was vastly different from the other. I’m not talking different floor plans and different colors, but different materials, sizes, roofs, everything. A limestone mansion would sit right next to a modest stucco bungalow. Even if anyone was building houses today, most people would probably say, “What are you proposing to build, a neighborhood or a freak show?”
A neighborhood would be my answer, because such was the neighborhood I grew up in for the first ten years of my life. To my sister and I, as little kids, it was Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. The limestone house with the wrought iron fence was the castle, the brick wall alcoves were the trolley tracks, and all the other houses fit somewhere in between. The only two unifying factors was that each house had an address number painted on the curb and one of these in the front yard:
These houses were all built early last century, back when architecturally eclectic communities were the norm. I guess some of them would have been pricey at first, but by the time I came along, they were more or less affordable. Ours was a typical two-story brick something or other that had been re-modeled in bad taste sometime during the 70’s. It had a yellow kitchen, a yellow bathroom, and wall-to-wall celery-colored shag carpet. My mother adored the crown molding, but the only thing I really liked about the inside of that were the bamboo-patterned curtains in the playroom, which the previous owners had left behind. With three quick pulls of a string, you could close all of them and have a jungle, even in the middle of February. If I’m every lucky enough to have a place of my own to decorate, I’ll re-create those curtains first thing.
The outside of the house was much more attractive, with a red cement patio and a bi-level backyard. It was perfect for sledding in the winter, and in the summer, it contained just about every flower that would grow there, give or take some raspberries. There were so many shade trees that we never had to wear sunscreen. To the side was a huge maple, begging for a treehouse, and a weird little door built right into the side of the house. My mom told me it was where the milkman used to leave his deliveries. Since that era came and went, the previous owners had plugged it up on the other side to save heat. Really? They couldn’t have just left it open for some child of the ’90s to play drive-thru with? Grownups.
We would have stayed there forever of course, but shared driveway squabbles, several sets of problem neighbors, and the steady demise of that entire side of town drove us out to the new subdivisions. Goodbye Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, hello Mr. White-out’s Plasticville. In 14 years, I never went back up through that neighborhood, even though I have a car now and it’s practically on the way to everything. Then yesterday I figured, why not? I turned onto the street, passed the stucco house, the limestone house, the duplex my sister and I were always going to buy when we grew up, the house with the porch, the walls, and then my old house. What do you suppose I found in the front yard?
Good guess, but it was actually one of these:
It shouldn’t have been a surprise. The people we sold it to are up in years, and it’s probably just too much house for them anymore. As I turn around to head back out, I notice the white iron screen door, the brass mailbox, the new plantings, and the roof railing my dad fashioned out of PVC pipe long before there was such a thing as plastic decking. I also notice a kid standing in the yard next door, looking puzzled. She’s no doubt wondering when the house next door will sell, what the new neighbors will be like, and who’s this idiot in the red car trying to turn around in a dead-end?