Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Old Neighborhood-Part I

I lived in the best neighborhood growing up, the best. Our house was smack-dab in the middle of New River Heights, a steep landing for fourteen homes bordering the south fork of the New River, which is actually the oldest river in North America. Twenty feet from a peaceful (but sometimes smelly) cow pasture, a stone's throw to the river where we skipped stones and caught fish, rhododendron and blackberry bushes in almost every yard, rolling hills and views of Howard's Knob, one-time home to the world's largest windmill. But it wasn't the landscape that made the old neighborhood so special, it was the people.. (I was trying to sound like Charles Kuralt--did I?)

People came and went--in fact, we moved away the summer before my 8th grade year--but there was a core of neighborhood kids that grounded those formative years in ways that will substantiate all childhood memories that I choose to share or quietly remember.
Ben was the alpha male, the leader of the boys, the heartthrob, the stud. His cousin Nathan was the goofy, sensitive artist, who spent summers in Boone but the rest of the year in Florida. Brian was the brown-noser, the over-reactor, the alarmist. He's the one who spread rumors that "Mrs. Lightfoot's been hitting the bottle," when my mom swerved slightly on the carpool home from Youth Group. He's also the one who shouted, "Hit the dirt! Mr. Lightfoot's got a gun!!" when he saw my dad putting my brother's b-b-gun away. Brian's younger sister Jessica was the youngest of the neighborhood kids and rarely joined the rest of us in our reindeer games. However, a mere year older than Jessica, my sister Kate weasled her way into everything the older kids did--often to the older kids' dismay. Kate was always picked last for kickball games, and it was always made clear that her outs didn't count. The baby of our group, the scrappy tomboy, Kate got picked last and picked on a lot. When Ben rolled the ball "too bouncy" and "too fast" and "too hard" for her young legs, she replied in exasperation, "You make everything hard," and this, to the older kids, became the longest inside joke for years. I laughed along with the 9th, 10th, and 11th graders and never let on that I didn't get what was so funny. I guess, then, that made me the naive girl-next-door. Daniel hung out with the boys, in the treehouse, in front of the Atari screen, under the basketball goal, but he lacked Ben's confidence, Nathan's charm and Brian's guts. Stuart was like my big sister, the prep, who introduced me to drugstore blush, Jordache jeans, and izod shirts with the collars turned up. Her younger brother Will was the chubby kid who ate lots of ice cream, and whose father insisted that he would eventually shoot up and slim down. (He did). And finally, Laurie, who was the alpha female, our leader, the one who introduced us to screwdriver drinks, INXS, and camping out on Friday 13ths.

There were others, who moved out early or moved in late, but these 9--Ben, Nathan, Brian, Daniel, Kate, me, Stuart, Will, and Laurie--we were the core, we were the "Old Neighborhood..." and yes, I've already organized the reunion.

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