Recently I stumbled across a blog that is compiling information about the neighborhood in which I grew up and sharing that information daily. The blog owner is a former inhabitant of this part of our big city, and she’s only about ten years older than I am, which means she’s focusing on the time period in which I was growing up in that same place, more or less – also the boom time of the area, which experienced major growth between the 60’s to the 80’s.
Like most people, I’ve long since left the area, and until recently hadn’t given these old neighborhoods much thought, except to feel relief over no longer living there. Like most staunchly middle-class parts of this big city, the neighborhood and its surrounding enclaves of that time have since tumbled down in status, and are rife with all the issues any area clinging desperately to the lowest rung of the middle-class ladder experience. In fact, that drop from one income bracket to a lower one, and all the crime and disrepair such a shift introduces to the area, was so familiar to me as a child that I was surprised, as a young adult, to learn it didn’t happen to all neighborhoods; I actually had friends in college who could return to their childhood homes without having to lament the decline of the old neighborhood (it happened to the area where both my parents grew up, and even happened to the neighborhoods my grandparents moved into after leaving the first ones that declined – then it happened to mine too, so I just assumed everyone’s childhood neighborhood eventually fell into shambles. Go figure).
So it stands to reason that for me, maintaining attachments to the old neighborhood was futile, as was revisiting it again (at least without a bullet-proof vest). But thanks to this blog, I’ve been reminded that it really was once a pretty nice place to grow up (even though there are more crime reports in the old newspaper the blog owner uses as her primary source for photos and articles than I remember actually happening back then, which makes me wonder). And I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how fond my newly-jogged memories are of this place, the people who lived there, the schools we attended, and the bygone eras we lived through.
A few things from that blog I feel are worth mentioning: in this post titled “Almeda Mall,” there are many photos uploaded of what was at the time a real marvel of a shopping center (par for the course with the rest of neighborhood, it’s now a fairly depressing place to visit). Several of the photos are taken from the yearbooks of schools in the area, which often utilized different sections of the mall’s architecture for group shots. One of those photos is from my junior year, and I’m actually in it! 😉 I’m not going to tell you which one, but I will tell you that I was in high school from 1983 to 1987, and my hairdo was the height of 80’s horrid at the time – so look for bad 80’s hair in a group shot and you just might spot me. And if you care to read her whole post about that mall, she pretty accurately sums up the place it holds in the hearts of those of us who grew up out there at that time. It really was the town center back then; loads of memories of that place, including my first ever job.
A few other things the site has reminded me of: the area was notorious for flooding like crazy every time there was a hard rain, until the city finally caught up to the massive growth of that part of town and upgraded the drainage systems sometime in the 80’s. For most of my early life I assumed that everyone’s street turned into a river each time it rained. By the time I was in junior high, I think our house had been completely flooded out three or four times, all carpet and furniture ruined and in need of replacement. Rollerskating was all the rage back then, and I remember my older sister and I lacing up our skates and speeding through our newly un-carpeted house until we could get all the ruined shag replaced. Good times.
Also remembered was the abandoned neighborhood of South Bend, home to many of my high school friends, now completely bulldozed and abandoned due to contamination of the ground and water in the area by two nearby chemical refineries. The area was eventually labeled a Superfund site (they were taken off that list in 2006) and has become notorious as an example of careless chemical companies contaminating entire neighborhoods with piss-poor storage of toxic chemicals in unlined containers and the like. The neighborhood wasn’t abandoned until the early nineties, I believe, and when I was in school it was still a nice, booming area a little farther up the road from where I lived. Occasionally people still sneak in and take photos of what’s left of the place and it is supremely creepy to me to see it now and remember all the houses I visited and all the friends I had there as a teen. Here’s a link to one such individual’s photos of what was left in 2011 – you’ll have to pardon the language in the ongoing conversation (it’s just an old message board thread), but some of the photos are pretty stunning. Perhaps only to me since I know there used to be a thriving neighborhood there, but still (the one photo of the bank sign really freaks me out, I drove past that thing a million times back in the day). I tried to find old photos of South Bend back when it was a normal place, but couldn’t turn anything up.
I also, of course, remember how much fun it was to spend time outdoors, riding bikes until dark, jumping on trampolines, swimming at the neighborhood pool, and doing all sorts of other things my middle-aged self looks back on wistfully while convincing myself that younger generations sure don’t know what they missed, what with their Internets and their cell phones and their sexting, dontchya know. We got into plenty of trouble and did all sorts of things we shouldn’t have done (and as the blog has reminded me, not all of us survived) but all in all, it was definitely a childhood I look back on wistfully, with a sense of nostalgia and a little bit of regret at how much it’s all changed.