The Center of the Universe...Lies Elsewhere
The Street With Two Names is a setting I wrote for a memoir writing class that I took this past summer. It not only describes the people I remember but the time and place of my childhood, back when I thought the busiest street of my neighborhood was the center of the universe. Although I didn’t live on this busy street (my family lived two blocks away from the time I was four years old) I spent a lot of time there – either shopping at the second-hand store; eating or killing time at the diner; or just passing through either by car (with my parents) or walking to the neighborhood center, a friend’s house, or the beach. Sadly, I grew up to learn the center of the universe lies elsewhere, but my childhood neighborhood will always be the place I remember as the most influential fragment of my life.
A Most Influential Neighborhood
The Street With Two Names
A street with a nickname. Exactly one mile long. Williamson Street, called Willy Street by the hip locals in the know, had two grocery stores – one a co-op - and four bars (one by the river) within two long city blocks of each other, not to mention another one on the opposite end of the street. There was also a hardware store, a clock repair shop, a second-hand store, a taxidermist, a greasy diner called Dolly’s (complete with a mini jukebox at every table and an alcoholic cook), a fire-station, a bowling alley, a photo lab, a pharmacy - which blocked the community center from view - and at least four gas stations. All were surrounded by single family homes and two or three story apartment flats occupied by the city’s unwanted and forgotten population of long haired men and women wearing tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottom pants, and beads upon beads upon more colorful beads around their necks. Angry factory workers, dressed in brown or blue, climbed up the hill with black, gray, or silver lunchboxes in hand. Vietnam War vets and college dropouts, angrier still, filled the street - some with families, some homeless. Scattered among this younger generation were the proud undesirables, the followers of hemp, and the far out criminals who stood up for what they believed whether it meant living arrangements, civil disobedience, or free love. Peace symbols were etched into flyer-clad telephone poles, hanging in windows or around necks, and drawn on brick buildings. Incense floated through the air from multiple directions – adding to or taking away from the pungent aroma following the citizens of the neighborhood. Horns honked at stop signs and stoplights, War Vets shouted out or mumbled to themselves as they walked down the street, still in uniform, some tattered and torn. Naked bodies convulsed in painful ecstasy from basement to roof, painted on the side of a three-story apartment flat, while barefoot children of all ages wandered from yards and sidewalks in search of adventure. Although the diverse neighborhood had its challenges, the one thing they all had in common were the two lakes, connected by the Yahara River, which sat on either side of the narrow strip of land upon which they each called home.
© 2013 Rafini
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