Saturday, July 3, 2010

Reminiscing - Installment 1

This is the first installment of what will be an occasional column.  Perhaps I should have called it  "Lamenting" instead of a "Reminiscing " . . .  

Growing up in Columbia was like being a child in Mayberry (of Andy Griffith fame). Well, maybe not quite that idyllic, but close.  Back in the day we actually had neighborhoods, each with its own identity.  Neighbors knew and looked out for each other, not that they had to, because there wasn't much crime.  No one would break into your home when you were away.  You could leave your house and car unlocked at night, and no one would enter or otherwise disturb your domicile or possessions.  You could walk down any street or alley any time of day or night, with no fear of mugging or physical assault.  Drugs were something your doctor prescribed and you picked up at Ortman's drugstore or Hinkle's.   Even a blue-collar guy like my dad could make enough at his job to buy a car, pay off a house, support a wife and kids, maintain a savings account, and have a little left over for small luxuries.  Life was more certain then.

Like other grade school kids of that era, I couldn't wait for the school year to be over.  Without fail, it was the same ritual: When the last bell of the year rang, I, along with all the other kids, would run out the front door of the schoolhouse, screaming and laughing with joy and relief, glad to finally be free.  I'd run home, drop off my final report card, change out of my school clothes (yes, we wore two sets of clothes in those days), and run out the door once again to look for friends to play.  Inevitably, I'd end up right back at the schoolyard within a few days for summer playground, not that I had to, but because I wanted to, whether from a sense of boredom, or a need to be involved with others.  Most of my classmates would be there, too, along with a few adults, who supervised the activities.  There was a hopscotch area on the asphalt surrounding the school.  Further down on the grounds were a high metal sliding board, swings, and a merry-go round, as well as a metal jungle gym, none of which would probably meet OSHA standards today.

Of course, that was several decades ago, and things have changed quite a bit, not necessarily for the better.  Now, rental properties dot the streets.  Even my old grade school alma mater, Manor Street School, has been converted to apartments, as has the former tobacco warehouse at Plane Street, now the Wagon Werks.  Rentals abound on Locust Street and other areas around town.  For the most part, I don't even know who lives in my neighborhood.  There's a rental property right next door.  Sure, I could make an effort to go out and meet the neighbors on the block, maybe even take them a hot apple pie as a show of cordiality, but there's not enough of a feeling of community in the air anymore to motivate me to do that.  Playground activities at the three remaining schools have been shut down, unless kids play on the grounds independently and unsupervised.  And I'm left wondering: What happened?

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