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.