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From Yesterday To Today: The Loss of Community

How It Works

If you’ve read previous articles in the “Yesterday To Today” series, you know how this works. I transport you back to the 1960s, back to Tacoma, Washington, back to the home I grew up in. From there we take a look at what I believe was a simpler time, back where more importance, I believe, was placed on moral principles, back where I learned how to live a life of love.

Thanks for joining me. Step into my time machine and let’s begin today’s journey.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

The Neighborhood Back Then

I’ve written before about the neighborhood I grew up in, the neighborhood I spent twenty years in, from age five to age twenty-five. It was such a simple neighborhood and yet remarkable in its simplicity. It had such a profound effect on me, so profound that even today, fifty years later, I still remember the names – the Mertz family, the Langston family, Mr. and Mrs. Witherspoon, Streitz, Auley, Zetterberg, Todd, Hoffman, Norlin, Mazda, Gordon, Lilly, Faucet, and my childhood friends, Ron, Bob, Karl, Mikey, Jackie, Richard, Smokey, Billy, their faces etched in my memories, the adventures vivid, forever with me, and I find that amazing, so many years separating us.

It was a post-war neighborhood, built to accommodate the thousands of soldiers returning home from World War 2, my dad one of them. We arrived in that neighborhood about five years after it was designed and built, so new it was that the streets were still dirt, the landscaping not yet done, just a street with homes on it, the yards designated by stakes in the ground showing boundaries. The first summer, when the wind blew, the neighborhood would mimic the Dust Bowl of the 30’s. My first memory of that neighborhood, upon arrival, was one of dread.

I was wrong!

New porch and much different view

New porch and much different view

Other Features of That Neighborhood

There was a small neighborhood store two blocks up from our home, run by Mrs. Fields, a house, really, with a store in what would have been her living room, her living quarters in the back of the store. A war widow, Mrs. Fields was a gentle, loving woman, Wiggles, her dog, her constant companion.

Two blocks in the opposite direction was the Muntz Meat Market, run by the Brothers Muntz, two veterans back from the war, meat-cutters by trade.

And five blocks north, to the very outer limits of “the neighborhood,” was the Proctor Retail District which included a Dime Store, a bowling alley, dry cleaners, library, two restaurants, hardware store, drug store, barbershop, and a couple other businesses I no longer remember.

And that is where I spent my childhood and teen years, riding my bike all around, and then driving my car all around, exploring and interacting and becoming one with.

But what I just described is really a Twitter description of it, twenty years of memories stuffed into the “280 characters” summary, and that summary simply will not do. There was so much more to that neighborhood than a “fast food” description.

There were no privacy fences in that old neighborhood....there are today where we live.

There were no privacy fences in that old neighborhood....there are today where we live.

A Few Examples

Mr. Gordon, painting his house, neighbors stopping by, grabbing brushes, and pitching in.

A neighbor in need of childcare? There was no such thing as childcare back then. The child in question would just go over to a neighbor’s house and stay there until his/her parents came home. Problem solved.

Wonder where your child is as dusk approaches? Not to worry. The Neighborhood Block Watch was on duty 24/7. It was virtually impossible for a child to “hide out” in our neighborhood. There was always a pair of eyes on you, or ten pair, as you played and walked about.

Dad barbecuing out back, calls out to Mr. and Mrs. Lerum, come on over, we’ve got more than we can eat, and the Lerums bring a salad and some cookies, impromptu party as the stars erupted in the sky and the crickets set a comfortable mood for all.

Grab a ball, a bat, and a glove, step outside, off the porch, go to the side lot, toss the ball up in the air once, twice, three times, and suddenly five kids are there ready for a “pick-up” game.

Mrs. Todd sick, down and out with the flu, neighbors walking into her house, carrying food for the Todd family, bringing magazines for Mrs. Todd to read, doing for one that which all would do for all.

Sitting on the porch, looking out on a fine summer evening, saying hello ten, fifteen times, as neighbors walk by, everyone knowing everyone, a feeling like a warm comforter spreading over you, you know?

Me running up to Mrs. Field’s store, her knowing my name, same with the Muntz brothers, hi Bill, how ya doing, how’s your mom and dad, good to see you, Bill, and the Proctor District, pretty heady stuff, a kid of ten being greeted by shop owners, me just a snot-nose, not knowing much at all, but feeling important as the adults of that District embraced me as one of them.

And the night my dad died, cold-ass January night, the next day they were all there, providing comfort, sharing tears, giving me and my mom the strength we needed to limp through life.

I’ve got a million of them, memories of those twenty years, all true, all meaningful.

Time Marches On

I moved out of that Shangrila when I was twenty-five. Within three years I was married, off on new adventures, eventually owning twelve different homes, spent time in Vermont, in Alaska, in Oregon, finally back to Washington, Olympia my home for the last thirty years, longer than that childhood neighborhood, but not nearly as memorable.

And it dawns on me now, in my seventy-first year, that what I miss most about that old neighborhood was the sense of community. I belonged back then and, truthfully, I haven’t felt like I belonged since, and that’s remarkable, you know, the countless neighborhoods I’ve lived in since 1973, the countless neighbors since then, and not once have I felt like I was part of something bigger and more important than me. Today, in this city I’ve called home for three decades, it’s “hi, how ya doing?” or “nice day, aint’ it?” and then move on, nothing more, sometimes less, not even knowing the last name of these people I call neighbors, and who the hell is to blame for that?

I am an introvert by nature but I swear, I’ve taken introvert to a brand new level as I’ve grown older, isolating at times, unable, or unwilling, to reach out and become that which I miss so much, and I find that sad. And I look around, at the gated “communities,” and the fenced and walled yards, the look of suspicion on the faces of those I pass during my daily walks, and I think maybe I’m not the only one who feels that way, social media now the way of the present, surface relationships for millions, a distinct lack of commitment, and I find that sad as well. God how I miss that old neighborhood. God how I miss that sense of community.

Change in Inevitable

I know that to be true, and some change is wonderful but, true also, some change is not progress. I despise generalizations, but it seems to me that this tendency to isolate is an epidemic which threatens to swallow us all and erode something which is terribly important, you know? People need people. We are pack animals. We were designed to communicate, to interact, to problem-solve, and to love, and none of those tasks are accomplished when barriers are erected between us.

My wife and I have recently become interested in a social movement called “intentional communities.” Think the 21st Century equivalent of a commune, if you will, same principle but modified a bit, people coming together to live in an area, working together, sharing meals together, helping each other, governing together, and by God, with each passing day, that idea has more appeal to me.

Is it possible to construct a neighborhood like the one I left in 1973? Is it possible to regain that which was lost?

I want to believe it is and, if it is possible, the work begins with me.

2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

H.O.W. (Humanity One World)

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