Dead Ends

My memories of my childhood, the years between ages five and eleven, are good ones.  We had moved from the city of Cleveland to the suburbs, from a 2-bedroom house where my brothers and I shared a room, to a 3-bedroom house where I had my own, if tiny, space.

But this was the 1950s suburbs—there were still fields and vacant and wooded lots.  The houses and yards were small.  The trees had not been cut down to build the houses.  Each was different.  Landscapers were not called in—yards were maintained in a casual manner.  No one owned a leaf blower or a snowblower.  We raked and shoveled and played in the leaves and snow while doing it.

Families had one car and people rotated carpooling or took Rapid Transit trains to work.  There was little traffic on our dead end street, and we often played there.  Railroad tracks stood at the dead end—we spent hours just watching the trains, counting the cars and waiting to wave at the caboose, climbing the fence and playing in the woods, fields, and streams “across the tracks”.  We walked or rode our bikes to school, to friends’ houses, to the candy store.

I recently looked at that house on Google Maps, shocked to see a bare front yard—all the oak trees had been removed.  What was once a dead end had been connected to the next street.  Gone was the Beck’s house on the hill, and Beck’s field where we played baseball in summer and ice skated in winter.  Gone was the Fleming’s double lot with its beehives, rabbit hutches, sheds, and hiding places perfect for kick-the-can.  Worst of all, “across the tracks” was now populated by warehouses, not fields and trees and the creatures that lived there.

My entire childhood had been erased.

screens the new playgrounds–
no more cloud-watching, fresh picked
berries, forts of shoveled snow—

finding a four-leaf clover
in the middle of your lawn

For earthweal, where Brendan asks us to witness the magnitude of the changes in our environments.

47 thoughts on “Dead Ends

    1. My parents were both born in Ohio–my mother in Canton, my father in Cleveland. We lived there until I was 11, then moved to Maryland. My parents later moved back, as did my younger brother (he’s on his third return, this time to Columbus). He went to Kent State and did his graduate work at Case.

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  1. When I sold my house and the lot behind it in the city 11 years ago, the first thing they did was take down all of the oak trees. There is something inherently evil in a species who is compelled to destroy trees — for any reason. I’m sorry your neighborhood was erased. It’s still there, in your mind, and who knows, it could be a template for a future one…

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    1. Thanks Jade. Yes I can still feel how it was. Modern builders seem to feel trees are only something that gets in the way. There’s a fight in the city right now about a park they want to update by first removing all the trees…

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  2. I think this happens more often in cities and suburbs than in rural areas. My childhood house looks the same. They did cut down the huge old oak tree, though. I cried when I saw it. I bet that tree was 200-300 years old when I was a child. It still makes me sick to think of it.

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    1. Trees are such a touchstone. But you are probably right about rural areas being less subject to progress. It would be interesting to see what my grandfather’s childhood farm looks like now. I have fond memories of visiting it.

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  3. I just visited my hometown and everything looks so different! It wasn’t the destruction of trees but of big buildings that I thought would be there for millennia – progress always has a price and it is so sad when that price is one’s childhood touch stones!

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  4. I’ve back to several childhood neighborhoods, and the magnitude of change over time is astonishing — our Chicago suburb had become frighteningly princes, the other, a newly built Florida suburb, had grown like vast kudzu and then paled and staled and seemed to rot in the hot sun. Time’s magnitude over a life is astonishing, if we get to stick around and notice it.

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    1. That’s true Brendan. Even many of the places I’ve lived in the city are now unrecognizable (not to mention unaffordable). It’s not nostalgia to say that when I moved here in the 70s you could live decently on minimum wage, because I did.

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        1. Google is actually pretty useless I find. What you really want is probably buried 50 pages down, because that’s not who is paying to be put first.

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            1. My daughter says you need very precise terms, but it’s hard to figure out what they are looking for. So you get the (paid for) common denominator.

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  5. Oh, I feel this one. (I flinched at the loss of the oaks.) I’ve lived in this town (now a city) since age 2 and lived in many houses and apartments over the last half-century but it’s a special kind of pain to watch the “development” especially in the last decade, all my wild places constantly razed and paved and built over with soulless things. Your stitches make me think of seeds on the wind; what patch of earth is left for them to land and sprout?

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    1. It’s frightening. And I wonder how we became so detached from the land to let it happen, to not even notice it in most cases. It’s easy to blame it on technology, but I think it’s deeper than that.

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  6. Such changes from those idyllic days. When I go back to my hometown of Kelowna, instead of apple orchards there are condominiums – everywhere, stretching out into what once was country. Sigh.

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    1. It’s so sad Sherry. When I was young people talked about zero population growth, but I don’t hear anything about it any more. We already don’t have enough housing for the population we have.

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  7. the days of wild are beyond us now, writ into the past. what remains are the detritus of ‘progress’, where every mote of land has an economic value, first. ~

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  8. When I took my kids and husband to the city I grew up in, so much had changed. The housing complex we lived in was not there, the land gobbled up by the steel plant. This resonated deeply, Kerfe. Of course, I have memories…with time they will be gone too.
    Did you embroider this one? I would love to make something like this.

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    1. Thanks Punha. Yes, I did the embroidery. It’s just a simple running stitch.
      I agree about so much being lost. The world is moving way too fast, with little consideration of the consequences.

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