I was thinking about neighbors today after reading a post by Steve Coan on another blog. I was reminded of my conversation with my daughter last night after a weekend visit at her mother's.
When my wife and I first married my daughter was 5 yrs. old. We were all fresh out of divorce, in debt, and poor as could be. She had purchased a house in fair condition in the lower west side of Grand Rapids (about 4 blocks from downtown, 4 blocks from the zoo, and 2 from the river). I moved in there after about 3 mos. before we were married because she is hot and it saved me 40 minutes of driving every day. At that time my kids were living with me one month and then with their mom one month. My ex-wife couldn't say too much about where I lived because she wouldn't even divulge where she lived. We exchanged the kids at a neutral spot. It was horrible but that is how divorce is sometimes.
Anyway, as it turns out my ex-wife had some trouble and I was given custody of my two kids. It wasn't because I was a good parent but I was the better of the two sorry parents that our kids had at the time. The five of us, me, my two kids, my wife, and her daughter, made that two bedroom house our home for three years. The school the kids had to go to was really one of the better elementary schools in the Public School system because we happen to be on the side of the street that went to what they call the "Park Place" of Grand Rapids Public Schools. It really wasn't a terribly bad place to live after talking to my daughter about it last night.
We had a small garden in the back yard and planted it with vegetables. Baby carrots, peppers, cherry tomatoes, etc. all small stuff that kids could pick and eat or wash and eat. We had a little patch of grass in the front that the kids played on and kept our backyard grass plush too. A farm boy needs something to do when he lives in the city. My wife loves to grow flowers so we loaded up the place with planters and filled them full of flowers. I wish I had a picture of that place. It stuck out of the grassless, trashy streets of that neighborhood like an oasis. As my daughter remembers it it was the best place in the whole world. Our yard would be filled with kids all the time. We'd have them in our house playing games on the computer (one of the few that had one in 1996 and only because I got it from work to work on), playing in the sprinkler, sitting on the steps - just plenty of life to go around. There were a few that didn't know much English, many more that had no one at home for them. There were two little girls whose mother was a single working mom and she tried hard to make ends meet but just couldn't do it by herself so she'd have a guy move in for awhile and then he'd be dragged away by the cops or thrown out by a friend. She was good people but poor. We all were.
The things you might see there weren't what I would now consider "good" for a child. About every third evening the uncle of one of the kids would walk up the street in drag headed uptown to prostitute himself. The cousin of one of the kids in the block behind us assaulted someone and ran away from the police and they caught him in our back yard after he jumped the neighbors fence. He was lying there with his hands on his head and his pants down to his ankles as often loose pants will do when you try to run in them. You could smell weed often while sitting on our front porch but we never really investigated exactly where it was coming from. The house next door had one of those tall fences with 4 dogs in it so it didn't smell so good. They'd start fighting and all hell would break loose, maybe some fir and dust waft over the fence, and then someone from the house would yell out the back door for them to shut up and they would.
Anyway, it wasn't exactly Disneyland but for some reason my daughter has better memories about that place than any other she can remember. I am going to try and figure that one out because places like that are fertile - there is so much shit that a seed can't help but grow and yes there are lots of weeds but at least the soil is fertile. You can live in a place like that very cheap. Housing is cheap and the kids don't have to have the latest trendy designer junk to fit in. Jesus would be in a neighborhood like that.