I’ve been reflecting on childhood in the small town versus what it must be today in a place like Atlanta. I guess all things are relative to what you experienced. If you had asked me as a teenager if I would ever look back on life in a small town as something positive, I would have laughed at you. At that point in my life, I felt that there had to be more to life.
This past week, I was checking out a sneak preview of a movie at Phipps Plaza in the heart of Buckhead. On the main level of the Mall was a display of child-sized homes. They were a million miles from anything I had as a child. They were essentially just small homes. A family from a third world country would have felt that they had been given an incredible gift had one of these landed in their yards. As I watched from one of the balconies above, upper middle-class parents and their children wandered about the little fairy land checking them out. It was surreal.
When I was probably 8 or 9, I wanted a tree-house, but we didn’t really have any trees that were suitable and my dad was not handy like that in the least. I remember my parents gathering pallets and other debris from the shopping center that was being constructed and letting me do what I could with it. I ended up with a little rough fort. For me, it was more than its constituent parts, but I’m sure to many, it appeared to be nothing more than a pile of debris. It started a building boom on the street for kids. Two houses down, the father of one of my friends bought her a play house. Compared to what I saw at Phipp’s plaza, it too was rough. It was simple with one square room on the first floor with a window and a door and a ladder gained access to an attic area. In the opposite direction, another friend, whose father was a carpenter by trade, built him a play house on stilts. It was also of scrap timber like mine, but with a real carpenter having assembled it, it was far smarter than what I had. The truth is, I don’t think any of them would be allowed into the landscaped subdivisions where I live now.
The city lot I grew up on back home would hold a block of townhouses or a couple of the mini-mansions with no yards which flourish here. Except for a couple of friends who lived on farms, it was no more or no less than what most of us had. For a child, it was a wonderland. Stands of dense brush were everything from jungles to vegetation from alien worlds. There was room to dig and trees to climb.
And I look around me and I see none of this. I don’t see room to play without encroaching on neighbors. I don’t even see trees to climb. Half the neighborhoods have trees to young for that or the ones that are older have trimmed their trees up so far no child would find a way up. And there are days that I truly long for home, for the quiet that comes with having breathing room from you neighbors.
I once read, and forget who to attribute this to, that good fences make good neighbors. They must have lived someplace like this. Back home, there was enough elbow room you didn’t really feel the need.