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When Marsha and I arrived back in Seattle last fall I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle waking up to a hometown I no longer recognized. When I first left back in 1971 times were tough.
This billboard said it all:
As most people know, the town has been booming, fueled by new technology that is producing riches reminiscent of the Gold Rush. Seattle has become a Mecca for a smart generation of technologically trained men and women capable of exploiting these opportunities. At the same time it has the third highest population of people who are homeless and is experiencing a deadly epidemic of opioid addiction.
Our return has felt eerily like a hangover.
What is particularly disconcerting is how my old hard-scrabble neighborhood has morphed into an enclave of the wealthy with million dollar bungalows and well-groomed gardens. I have felt lost and disoriented, like an exile.
I found myself feeling old, bitter and a bit melancholy. I have resented the gentrification of my neighborhood, the fact that what was there is now long gone. I looked in the mirror and saw that, indeed, I was morphing into an angry, critical, nasty old man.
Then the memory of an old woman popped into my mind. Her name was Pauline Shaw, and she and her husband Emmett lived two doors down from my childhood home. They had raised their family on our dead end street and had known everyone who ever lived on Lorentz Place. Pauline taught piano and baked cookies, Emmett was the expert gardener, and together they were the wise elders of our block. What I remember most was their kindness: they never got angry at us kids for all the
- windows we broke,
- apples we pinched,
- noise we made,
- fights we started.
The baby boom generation were unlike anything that came before. We were many in number, smarty pants in nature and we created our own weather system. The Shaws had raised their children in a different era. Their economy had grown slowly and I’m sure they were mystified at all the new gadgets everyone seemed to be purchasing. The world of the 1950’s was a far cry from the 1920’s.
I remember one encounter I had with Mrs. Shaw after I’d smashed a baseball through her front window. She came out, examined the damage and called me over. I apologized to her for what I’d done and promised to replace the window. She waved it off, sat me down on her steps, and shared a story with me. She recounted when she was a child an old woman lived on her block. The woman was a sad and tortured soul who complained about everything and everybody, forever scolding neighborhood children for the noise they made. She said it made being a child on her block very difficult.
When the old woman died she remembered no tears were shed on her street, only the whispers of neighbors that they were glad she was gone. Mrs. Shaw resolved that she would be different.
- She would make friends with her neighbors,
- Accept change she didn’t understand,
- Treat everyone with kindness.
Mrs. Shaw used piano lessons as her means of getting to know the neighbor children and she said once she knew a child she formed a lasting bond. Over the years she never had problems with her neighbors. They all had become friends, broken windows and all.
So it was that Pauline Shaw was not made an exile of time.
The memory of her offered me a sorely needed a reminder:
- Make friends of my neighbors,
- Accept that some changes I won’t understand,
- Treat everyone with kindness.
My last thought about Mrs. Shaw was how she found contentment in her sea of change. Every now and then when we baby boomers on Lorentz Place were booming a little too vigorously, a beautiful sound would drift out over the neighborhood. It was Mrs. Shaw playing her piano, silencing us all and sending us into a perfect state of contentment.
See what I mean:
Just a thought…
Copyright © 2018 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.
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