Second in my Facebook Recovery Posts (FRP). For the first, and an explanation of exactly what an FRP is, read here.
History is fascinating to me. I love the million, billion interesting and important stories of humanity’s past, to see where we were, what we’ve built, conquered, and accomplished- those are stories I could listen to all day long. However, in a recent Imprimus essay, “History, American Democracy, and the AP Test Controversy,” historian Dr.Wilford McClay laments the dismal state of historical studies today, citing, among other issues, the propensity for modern scholars to divide history into micro-oriented grievance groups and to look at everything of the past, no matter how noble, with a jaundiced eye. In other words, since (and because of) the 60’s we’re only allowed to look at the past and be angry, particularly if we happen to be a minority in any way, shape, or form. I am saddened that this is so, for I am angry. I am angry that I can’t simply “enjoy” our common history anymore because, now, everything is tainted by modern man’s need to Monday morning quarterback.
Case in point: We have amazing historical neighborhoods in Houston, thousands of beautiful lots with stunning homes from the 20’s and 30’s. Be they small craftsman and Tudor-style bungalows or massive mansions on finely manicured lots, these houses, many of which have been either well-maintained or meticulously restored, are quite simply lovely. The era in which they were built, an era that included
trans-Atlantic flights, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, Mae West, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, Bonnie and Clyde, the Olympics of Jessie Owens, and the rise of Adolf Hitler, saw many old conventions fall away and opened the door to both miraculous progresses and never before imagined horrors. To some degree, I look back and think of those years as, in Dicken’s words, the best of
times and the worst of times. And the people who built and lived in those homes saw it all. How cool is that!?
Sadly, that was also the era when Jim Crow reigned, with no small thanks to that progressive demon Woodrow Wilson, mind you. In all likelihood those grand homes had “negro” nannies and servants, and every last one of them rode in the back of the bus, drank from separate water fountains, and sent their kids to “separate but equal” schools. More broadly, children died from diseases we nip in the bud so easily now, there were few social safety nets to help the poor and the destitute, women had little control over their own lives, abuses occurred without laws or law enforcers willing to support the victims of rape or incest, Indians languished on reservations, South Africans were brutally oppressed, Britain ruled India, and Belgium the Congo! Western imperialism was in its heyday!
See how I did that? Despite the fact that people talked to one another, neighbors knew and helped each other, movies were unrated, and children got to roam freely, to be children, though at a certain point it was expected that they would put away childish things, marry and start families of their own, because of inequalities everything was awful. Regardless of the fact that the nuclear family was the only norm, children of all colors, were largely born within the bonds of holy matrimony, divorce was uncommon, as was abortion, and people worshiped at church on Sundays, instead of at the mall. But according to those in charge of the academy, we’re not supposed to remember any of the good of those days gone by, only the bad.
As usual, I refuse to comply.
April, 21, 2014
Today, today, I am waxing poetic.
What a good morning I had. Brownie is taking a class at MFAH’s Junior Art School this week. So, everyday at 8 a.m. we’ll be heading to the Hermann Park area for a class that runs from 9-11. This
morning I took a long stroll around the neighborhood, reveling in childish fantasies for the better part of two hours. The ‘hood directly behind the building, which is off of Montrose, is rife with 30’s & 40’s era apartment buildings and quaint homes that have often been converted into apartments. Of course, there are also some newer, sleeker patio homes, with lots of frosted glass, metal trim, and art deco numbers affixed to their facades. The older places just scream “starving artists live here,” while the newer, pricier builds are more demonstrative of the choices common among the young urban singles with high paying jobs. BMWs and Range Rovers were not uncommon sights in those driveways.
Following the homes back a few blocks, the narrow, “mulit-family dwelling” lined streets gave way to a wide, tree-lined boulevard featuring a median divided in half by a long, broad walkway made from terracotta pavers laid in a herringbone pattern. Massive century old oaks sheltered what was essentially a linear park in the middle of row of 1920’s mansions, sitting on lush, well-landscaped lots of four or five acres each (by my estimation). I felt like I had stepped back in time to the Golden Years of Hollywood. All that was needed to complete the image in my mind was a platinum blonde Greta Garbo look-alike outfitted in a designer red silk dress, dripping with furs and jewels being driven up one of the long drives in a silver Rolls Royce by a tuxedo clad chauffeur.
North Boulevard captured my heart & took me back to the days when my family would drive through the equally august Monticello and Westover Hills areas of Ft. Worth “just for fun” on Sundays. For a young girl living in a mobile home with orange shag carpet and vinyl couches out in the sticks, my mind would soar during those drives! Goodness, how I wanted to live in one of those special homes.
After the mansions, came the more “modest” homes on more “modest” lots. The next block or two had beautiful multi-story villas of Tudor, Spanish, and Craftsman design, and a few of those stylish contemporary homes, too—the ones where it was obvious the original home had been razed to make way for a twenty-first century variation on a theme: contemporary conveniences, sleeker styles, no rusty pipes, knob and tube wiring, or window units, but generally, with a few exceptions, enough charm to fit in with the original models. Yes, my fantasies did just fine there, too.
Further along, the lots got ever smaller, and the houses began to shuffle closer together, as if they were lining up to be photographed and had to squeeze into the camera frame. The appeal of these smaller bungalows did not diminish in relation to their size though. In fact, I loved them even more for their small yards, narrow drive ways, garage apartments, lush greenery, and brightly painted front doors. Not to mention the fact that I might someday actually be able to afford a mortgage on such a property. After
all, Fantasies are all well and good, but in the end, I’m a realist.
Eventually, I reached a block where the lots gave up on sidewalks, as the front doors were just a few feet from the street. At that point, sidewalks apparently became less important than a tenuous, but necessary finger hold on green space.Sadly, it was at that moment the outside world intruded into my day dreams, just as the street had intruded upon the front yards of these fanciful doll houses. As I glanced a little farther along my path, I recognized the familiar golden arches of Mc Donalds on Kirby; the noise and industry broke the spell the trees had cast upon me, and my imagination could go no further.
But wait! I remembered something very important at that moment: I still had to turn around and go back to get Brownie.
As an aside, there was something I couldn’t help but laugh about on my walk, strike that, my stroll, today, and that was the sidewalks. They were simply hilarious to me. The few people I did encounter in the hour I was out were not walking on the sidewalks, but in the street! The roots on those massive old oak trees had pried up large sections of concrete with the ease, if not the speed, of a 50 ton bulldozer.
Every time I came to a curb cut, I smiled. Seriously, if the idea of a curb cut is to take away the need for one to step-up, or make it possible for a wheel chair bound individual to roll across a street and back onto the safety of the sidewalk, making them was a huge waste of tax payers money. Huge! No grandma or gandpa with any sense of joint preservation would dare attempt to walk anywhere BUT the street! LOL. I’m so grateful I get to walk this area every day this week. But, tomorrow I think I will check out South Boulevard instead.