Our neighborhood was filled with babies, dreams
When our realtor attempted to unlock the front door, it would not budge. She had to use her body weight to push it open.
“That’s a good seal,” she said with a wink, tossing the end of her scarf fashionably over one shoulder.
It was a 1,200-square-foot postwar box in a neighborhood riddled with patriotic street names (Independence Road, Liberty Drive, and Colonial Avenue among them) in Greensboro, N.C. On the Fourth of July, a makeshift parade, led by the “stroller patrol,” would materialize like pillared clouds on a hot summer day. Young parents would affix red, white, and blue crepe paper and balloons onto wagons, tricycles, and carriages and march through the blocked-off streets — cold beer in one hand, baby bottle in the other.
My new wife, Elizabeth, and I fell in love with the house as much as the neighborhood. We found the quirkiness of our home charming in a way that only new owners could: the afterthought of a kitchen, the back porch converted into a wood-paneled den, the uneven terrace of wavy red bricks, and the toilet perched inexplicably like a throne on a black-and-yellow-tiled platform.
The neighborhood had been a baby factory since the ’40s, when men returned from overseas, married their high school sweethearts, and settled down.
“All these yards had clotheslines filled with cloth diapers billowing in the breeze,” our realtor said with a sweep of her hand, as if she were peeling back the veil to give us a peek into the past. Then she added: “Y’all are going to be happy here. I just know it.”
We were. After we painted the rooms and outfitted the tiny house with furniture, we filled it with two baby girls and all of their accessories, keeping the neighborhood tradition alive. We even tried using cloth diapers with our first daughter. It lasted two weeks. We placed a mesh bag of dirty diapers on the front porch in the morning to be replaced with clean ones from a service in the evening before realizing that our love of convenience trumped our love of the environment.
We would often wake up at night to the hungry cries of a baby and stumble bleary-eyed into the nursery to find our daughters blissfully sleeping. The small homes were so closely packed together that the monitor would often pick up the wails of the infant next door or the one-sided conversation of our neighbor Wanda on her portable phone, offering to make her famous rice-filled Jell-O ring for an ailing parishioner.
Like most other families, our need for space forced us to leave the neighborhood to seek a home that was less “charming,” in real estate parlance. The quirks had become flaws and what was lacking — central air conditioning, a garage, and a master bedroom — had become more important than what was in abundance: familiar streets, spreading oaks, and an easy commute.
The space we sought eventually became two homes 700 miles apart, one in Boston and the other in Virginia, a his-and-hers type of arrangement.
When I return to North Carolina to visit family, I drive by the old house with my daughters, now in their 20s. “Remember this? Remember that?” I ask.
Most often, they do not, though they’ll remark about how diminutive it now seems. Like most first homes, it was too small to contain a burgeoning family but just right to hatch big dreams.