Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Adjoining Neighborhoods

As I've mentioned before, I live in what some might call an "edge" community--by which I mean I live in a town that is generally more affluent than its neighbor to the east. In this case, the neighbor to the east is the west side of Chicago--a mostly black and, in some places, distressed area. Streets severely potholed, food deserts, boarded-up windows and deteriorating buildings. Grated store fronts. When I drive through there, it reminds me a lot of the Grand River and Joy neighborhood I describe in my novel. Today, I want to tell a story about the place where I live and a colander
     Many years ago, my parents came to visit. While my husband and I were at work one day, my parents got busy trying to help us out around the house. My father noticed that my colander--which looks much like the one in the photo above--was in need of repair. The ring at the bottom, on which the whole enterprise depends, was hanging by a thread. Well, he thought, he'd simply head out in the car and find a place that does welding--a body shop or some such. He was certain he could find something.
     When looking for services, most people in my town head west (away from the Chicago neighborhood I described in the first paragraph) rather than east. Either my father did not know this, or he didn't particularly care, so he headed east. My father was not a large or imposing or macho man. I think he simply wasn't afraid of certain things. Or perhaps he was unaware that he should be more cautious in certain places and situations. I do not know. In any case, he soon found himself pulling up to a body shop on the west side of Chicago.
     He got out of his car, this smallish gray-haired Jewish guy, colander in hand, and entered the building. There he found four black men, sitting around a table, playing poker and smoking cigarettes. I do not think in reality that they were drinking whiskey, but in my imagination (forgive me), they were.
     "I'm wondering if you can weld this for me," he said. He showed them how the ring was flapping. The men looked at each other, likely somewhat incredulous. They put down their cards. They put down their cigarettes. (They sipped from their drinks.) And then one of them got up, came over to my dad, and said, "Sure. Let me see what I can do."
     I still have that colander. And you can still see the welding marks. It wasn't the finest, most elegant repair ever, but it's held all these years.

3 comments: said...

Living in the area where we grew up, it's unfortunately ingrained in us to be wary of those who are unlike us. I was seriously beaten junior high school, my husband was stabbed and our son was held up at knife point for a moped at age twelve. The gym teacher took care of my attackers; my husband's assailant was not caught and the suburban police department suggested I take my son for counseling at my expense when he was afraid to go outside. His attackers were sentenced to a summer of basketball in an affluent area. This was probably their fist experience eating three meals a day and sleeping on clean sheets. A few years later our garage was broken into, yielding a pair of mopeds, miscellaneous items and cigarettes mashed into the cement. Our feeling of invasion can be understood only by others who have shared our experiences.

Halloween trick/treating should be outlawed. Walking tots in strollers and dragging little kids around must be terrifying to them. Chances of them eating their loot are often slim and danger abounds once the big kids bang on the door after lights out.

Where does one draw the line? While we cannot and should not condemn a group of people because of a few, it's the few that we encounter that scare us and do damage. Until our society treats people more equally, the individual must think about self-protection before generosity or going to places where one may not be welcome.

Isn't that too bad?

Patry Francis said...

What a wonderful story. When I was a young single mother, my sons and I lived in a public housing project. Many of their friends from school were not allowed to come to our apartment because it was in "a bad neighborhood." Many of their fears were justifiable: the police came to our neighborhood and took people away in handcuffs on a regular basis, drugs were sold openly in the parking lot, and some of the kids my boys played with ended up in prison.

But there were also a lot of good decent people there, people who would happily fix a colander or bring covered dishes if you were sick. In the summer, everyone sat out on their stoops and called to each other across the night while the kids played, and music from many cultures mingled in the air.

I don't remember ever being afraid. Mostly, I just remember those summer nights and the voices carrying across the air.

Susan Messer said...

I understand what you mean about fear, and it certainly seems that your family's experience was scary. It's a challenge to keep from generalizing. In my novel, the main character says something about there being good people and bad people in every group, and the problem is that we can't always tell the difference by how they look. I guess I'm still not sure about whether there are really "bad people" or just desperate ones who have been raised in really, really miserable conditions.

Patry, wow, what a pleasure to hear from you. I was just thinking about you last night. Your experience contrasts pretty drastically from that of the first commenter. Just goes to show. I'm happy to have the balance shown here. Neither story undoes the other, but still . . .