Last week I had a dream and upon awakening, I realized it has to be one of my versions of utopia. In it, I was back in the neighborhood I grew up in, with all of the familiar faces that have since moved away or passed on. It was summertime and lots of people were outside on their front lawns just socializing with each other. I walked from house to house, lingering as I went, to converse with all of the people who shaped and colored my world in some way. I was sad when I woke up – already missing my old friends and their families.
I believe my dream stemmed from a real longing for a sense of community in my neighborhood today. Times are so different than they used to be, though. Both parents are working in most households, and everyone seems to do their own thing. I long for the bonds that were created with people in the neighborhood of my hometown. I grew up in Willingboro, NJ, formerly known as Levittown – a town designed to be idyllic and it most certainly was, even until the mid-to-late-80′s, in my opinion. I’ve got such fond memories: playing kickball in the middle of the road with all the neighborhood kids in the summer; going door-to-door every Halloween and knowing which house had the good candy and which house gave out the toothbrushes and fruit; walking to my friend Laurie’s and Cheryl’s houses as a young teenager, chatting with random people as I went; hopping the fence in my parents’ backyard to hang out at “the plaza“, spending hours in Riccardo’s buying cigarettes from the vending machine and eating greasy pepperoni pizza by the slice; learning how to drive in that same plaza parking lot; and in winter in the plaza parking lot, using the huge snow mountains that were created by the plows to have snow wars with all the other neighborhood kids; attending the annual Christmas party at Mrs. E’s house that we drove to even though it was just around the block; walking to the parades for Memorial Day and July 4th, hanging out with neighbors and shooting the breeze as the various acts came through; falling in love for the first time with a boy who lived around the corner.
Today, that neighborhood is a shadow of its formal self, with a lot of the long-timers and original owners long gone. I drive by the houses of my former neighbors, sadly acknowledging all those who used to live there and the inevitable change that comes with the passing of time. It’s bittersweet to go “home” today, but I cherish it nonetheless. I don’t know if my parents will always live there, and I could one day have to ride by the house of my childhood and yearn to be able to go inside. I shudder to even think about that possibility.