The West End

What is a neighborhood? Is it the style of the houses? Is the unique streets and light posts? Or is it the people who inhabit it? When I looked up the definition on, I found a variety of explanations that ranged from, "the area or region around or near some place or thing," to "a district or locality, often with reference to its character or inhabitants." The one that spoke to me, though, was, "neighborly feeling or conduct." I have lived in a variety of places over the years, but none of these compare to the West End of Decatur.

My parents moved to the West End from the north side back in 1967. Brother Bruce was on the way, so our growing family needed a bigger house. Mom and Dad raised four children in our green pointy home on Riverview. We ran the neighborhood, exploring every gully and hidden fort. Our childhoods were filled with a sense of fabulous freedom that kids today don't know. Instead of playdates and organized sports, we devised complicated street games that lasted for hours. In the summer we ran out the door after breakfast, quickly returned for lunch and snacks, and then reluctantly appeared for dinner. On warm evenings we played Ghost, running from lighted porch to porch. Life was sweet and innocent and safe.

When I came back to Decatur in 1995 my boys and I lived with Mom and Dad for a few months. My damaged and aggrieved self needed to be nurtured and babied by my parents, which they did with verve. Later that fall I luckily found a duplex unit just down the street. This little house in the fifteen hundred block of Riverview became our home for four years. It allowed me to give my boys a childhood spent in the neighborhood in which I grew up. They played with children who lived nearby. As they grew older, I let them wander a little farther and farther. They had friends down the street and over on Sunset. Kids ran in and out of our small home.

Eventually I was in the financial position to purchase my own house. My realtor showed me all around town, but my compass kept pointing back to the West End. I eventually bought a two story home on West Decatur Street. My little family spent six of the happiest years in this rambling, funky house with its musty basement and creaky windows. Buying this home on my own gave me such a sense of pride.

Now that the boys were older, I let them walk to Dennis School, play with the neighbor kids, and wander down the street. They held massive Beanie Baby wars in the basement and created Hot Wheel towns in the mud. Their childhood wasn't mine; it was theirs and it was magnificent and fine.

The West End is this unique meld of grand old homes and smaller fixer uppers. The old brick streets wreak havoc on cars. The iconic stone light posts need care. Crime has slowly seeped into this haven. The people who live there, though, band together to create a sense of unity and cohesiveness that doesn't exist in other places. Even though I no longer live in this neighborhood, it will always be a warm light in my heart. The West End raised me and then it later raised my boys, and for that I will be forever thankful.

"In my situation, every time I write a sentence, I'm thinking not only of the people I ended up in college with but my siblings, my family, my school friends, the people from my neighborhood. I've come to realize that this is an advantage, really: it keeps you on your toes." ~Zadie Smith