Saturday, November 24, 2012

the old neighborhood

Driving around the old neighborhood on a recent Saturday morning with the whole town still asleep I felt sad that the place looked down at the heels, small, tired -- like the survivor of a protracted struggle that might succumb at any moment to accumulated exhaustion.

When I was a boy our big front lawn seemed a chore to mow. It has shrunk to a narrow patch of turf crowded on two sides by concrete driveways.

For a boy raised in a strict family, raking was a job that came with the pay-off of being trusted with matches. We would rake the leaves into a large pile on the apron of the driveway and burn them just one foot away from the busy thoroughfare that Berdan Avenue was in the 1960s.

I remember when the city came through and cut down the towering elms that lined our block. In place of those old friends were planted 10-foot high saplings with leaves that were supposed to shrivel in the autumn before falling. Those re-plantings now overarch my old block between Roanoke and Bellevue just west of the railroad tracks. Except that the railroad tracks -- there used to be dual tracks -- have long since been torn up.

You know you are old when you can remember when these trees were planted as saplings.

As a boy lying in my darkened bedroom at night awaiting sleep I would watch the automobile headlights play across the walls of the room from the road below as the cars drove over the mound made by that railway crossing.

I would listen for the mysterious and forlorn train whistle. Eventually that sound in the night comforted me. It became a part of my world. The train was wishing me sweet dreams as it barreled past our house on its way to Detroit, Chicago, or maybe St. Louis.

This rise on Berdan Avenue just west of Bellevue used to be a railroad crossing.

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