From Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach
page 21 Exercise One: Mapmaking Please make a map of the earliest neighborhood you can remember. Include as much detail as you can. Who lived where? What were the secret places? Where were your friends? Where did the weird people live? Where were the friends of your brothers and sisters? Where were the off limit places? And so forth.
This is a sketch of my childhood neighborhood. I don't know when we moved in but I know it was sometime before kindergarten. I lived there until just before my 17th birthday. That's a long time and a lot of childhood memories. My assignment was to draw out whatever I could remember .Surprisingly I remembered a lot. And more came flooding to me as I kept going.
We moved into a brand new home. It was a ranch. The first lot on the left in the neighborhood. We had the biggest yard of everyone. One one side of us was a little white house, on the other side - just past our enormous side yard - the highway. We lived a stone's throw away from the service road and a major highway.
Our house was green. It was 1970something. Everything was a shade of green. Even our stove and fridge in the flower power wall papered kitchen. Except for the eagle. The eagle wan't green, above the window on the front of our house was a golden colored 3D eagle.
Our driveway was long and steep. We couldn't ride bikes on it because we'd go right into the street and seeing as how we were the house off the highway right by the neighborhood entrance, there was too much traffic.
I had a bird's eye view of our neighborhood though. From the super large picture window in our formal living room. Often we would sit on it's ledge and watch the world pass by. Sometimes when we were really bored, my 3 siblings and I would play manican. We would pose in crazy ways and then stay perfectly still until some poor passerby would notice us.
We didn't live in a block. Our neighborhood was a huge oval. As you traveled into our neighborhood, from either direction, you went uphill. This made for leaving - especially on our bikes - exhausting. However, we could get home (at the bottom of the hill) in no time flat. And we had friends everywhere. No matter which way round the loop we'd go... we had friends. My sister played endlessly with Julie Summers. My brother with Matt Godatt. My youngest sister was too small to leave the house and yet she managed to. The summer she followed the sound of the ice cream truck and got lost in the neighborhood was a tragic day. I remember we called the police as my mom was sure she had been snatched. She hadn't. She just went too far and didn't know how to come home. I remember she was barefoot and the neighborhood had just been retared. Her feet were covered with black goo.
I had neighborhood friends as well. But mostly I remember my neighborhood enemy Kelly Lungsford. I don't know why she didn't like me. But she didn't. At all. She hated me. She bullied me ruthlessly and had her best friend Brenda, who was a grade older than us, beat me up one day after school. My siblings and I were walking home together after school and they left me when I got jumped. They ran home scared as could be. I must have been too scared to move. I wonder, do I have the flight or fight instinct because I didn't fight back and I didn't have the common sense to run away. I got the crap beat out of me. I think I was in 5th or 6th grade. After that year, I didn't see Kelly again for 3 or 4 years. I don't know why she didn't attend my school anymore. But my freshman year there she was again, standing at the same bus stop as me waiting to go to high school. On cold days her grandfather would drive by the bus stop and give her a ride to school. One cold day he told her to invite me to go along with them. I didn't refuse the nice warm car ride. Whether she liked me or not didn't matter to me. .. it just beat standing out in the cold. From that day on, whenever her grandfather drove by I got in the car as well. I just know she hated that.
I think she was the one who cut our Christmas lights that year. My dad went all out to decorate the house. Probably because so many cars could see our house from the highway. He would decorate the house with big multicolored bulbs and each and every window and bush got smaller blinking, muliticolored lights. One year, the same year I got rides to school with Kelly, someone vandalized our decorations. They cut the lights. Dad would buy more. And then they would cut them again. This seemed to go on and on, I have no idea how many times he replaced the strings of lights. I have no idea if Kelly was responsible. But I've always wondered.
I don't remember it snowing a lot in St. Louis growing up, but I remember when it did it was a big deal. Our side yard served as the best sledding hill. And when we'd get too cold or too wet we kids would go inside and warm up from the picture window. We'd laugh and gawk at all the drivers who lost control coming down the neighborhood hill. They're cars would go up the median, spin around backwards and provide us with much entertainment. One time though a car got stuck and another vehicle stopped to help. A third car came down the hill and couldn't stop. The third car hit the second car, which pinned a fella in between the second and first car. I remember taking a blanket off our bed to keep him warm until the ambulance arrived.
The ambulance probably didn't take long. We lived right by a major hospital. Ambulances zooming by were a common thing. We were used to it. Sometimes I remember praying every time I heard the sirens. I'd first listen to see if it was coming to my house, then I'd say a prayer for whoever it was going to get. My mom needed an ambulance once. When our green house began to show it's age we hired house painters. This time Dad choose an army green color and the trim a pale yellow. They painted the windows shut. On a warm spring day my mom tried to open the windows. But they were stuck. She took a kitchen knife and went along the edges in attempt to loosen them. When that didn't work, she took the palms of her hands to hit the window sashes. She missed and put her wrists right through the glass. I didn't see her do it but I remember the kitchen towels she had wrapped around her hands. They were so red. She screamed for me to go to the neighbor's house. The neighbor - who's name I can't remember - drove her to the ER. She could have died. Aunt Judy stayed with us that night. I remember she let me stay up late coloring in my Snow White coloring book. I will never forgot that day. For lots of reasons but mostly because on hot summer days I loved to play on our front porch. The cement felt cold as it was well shaded. I played weeble wobbles there watching cars go by, keeping close eye on the neighborhood. My mothers blood stained the cement of that front porch. Sometimes I would play there and pretend I couldn't see the perfectly, round brown stains left behind. Still to this day, I sometimes catch myself trying not to notice what is right in front of me.