Saturday, September 11, 2004

Three Neighborhoods in Nashville

The 5th set of Nashville Stories

1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
10 11 12

Unlucky Thirteen
When my parents first moved to Nashville, it was the early 80's, and we lived in a pink rental house on Acklen Avenue between the United Methodist Church and Dragon Park. I loved this house; it was small, even to a child, but the sidewalks were where I first rode a big wheel. The park down the street was fabulous and new. The day care at United Methodist was progressive and exciting, and I was forming bright new memories: my first bee sting, drawing hopscotch, learning to work a water hose, a cat ate my parakeet, the host of imaginary friends under my bed, the first Christmas I can remember, Dr. Who on TV, with Godzilla, and Siskel and Ebert.

We were robbed twice while living in this house, and moved to White Oaks Apartments in Hermitage before I started school the next year. I was disappointed to leave the pink house, but accepted it; after all, we moved once a year every year when I was young. A move was nothing that needed explaining to me at that time.

But 20 years later, my mom told me why we left.

The whole neighborhood was one of musicians and their families, and that is why my parents had moved there. One day, while all the men were away on tour, a rapist pushed down a friend of my mother's as she was bringing groceries into a neighboring house, and attacked her in front of her young daughter. The women of the neighborhood were afraid, my mother even more so after she received a threatening phone call late one night. She was alone, in her early twenties, and watching another friend's young daughter and me. The rape had the effect of uniting the women in the neighborhood; another musician's wife came and sat with my mother all night, baseball bat in hand. They were braced for the worst. The police said they could do nothing but drive by every once in a while; they couldn't sit on the street all night protecting the women, whose husbands were off playing in various parts of the country.

The next day, my mother arranged for all our belongings to be put into storage, left Nashville for the remainder of the tour season. She returned to Georgia with me, and I never questioned why; I was used to traveling, and happy to see my cousins again. Mom did not return to Nashville until my father was off the road and she had secured another apartment.

Years later mom and dad moved into their dream house in Hillsboro, less than 3 miles from the rental house that had been their first home in Nashville. The pink house isn't on Acklen anymore. After the burglaries and rape, the neighborhood had acquired a bad reputation, and a handful of the houses, including the one where the attack took place and our pink house, were razed in favor of some rather ugly apartment buildings that clash with the nice small craftsman style houses still there.

The Republican and I, soon to be married, are often taken around the Brentwood area when I'm there to visit his mother. This is the expensive part of town, where houses are large and meant to impress, where pedestrianism is frowned upon, and indeed, seen only in maids, landscapers, and the homeless. I have recently met the maid that works for my fiancé's family, and I am probably more comfortable around her than most other people in Brentwood. Her mother worked for The Republican's family before her. I don't want her to work for me. I'd rather clean the house with this woman, talk to her about what my husband-to-be was like as a child. I bet she knows all the best gossip. I bet she has oral history to impart. I want to sit and laugh with her, I want to share recipes and dish the dirt.

I don't do any of those things with the maid (yet). Instead, I have been to the jewelers with Mrs. The Republican, my future mother-in-law. We have been to lunch. She has apologized for teaching her son nothing of cleaning and cooking, and less about women. I do like her; she is loud and talkative and excited that her only child is marrying. She and I are physical opposites, and I worry about standing next to her. I in my 6 foot 200 lb. hulking frame of coarse blue-collar manners stand in direct contrast to Mrs. The Republican's tiny 5-foot petite frame, all clad in Ralph Lauren and tasteful cosmetics.

Future-mom-in-law is insistent that she can find me clothes and wants to buy my trousseau. I have tried to convey how impossible this will be, but she remains undeterred. I will take Sara, my now 17-year-old sister, with me when we go shopping next weekend. Sara first tried to demand payment for this favor, but settled for blackmailing me into a visit to a local art gallery she wants to visit. Both Sara and I agree we are terrified of the impending shopping trip, where I will be outfitted in expensive Republican style weather I like it or not, lest I offend someone who is trying to welcome me into a very different sort of family.

The Republicans live in an upscale neighborhood in Brentwood where a friend of mine used to do landscaping. As a teenager, I babysat a few streets away for a family that went to Hawaii once a year and bought their children whatever their little hearts desired. Issues of class, education, and behavior constantly form an internal monologue I have to ignore when in Nashville now. I will probably struggle with these issues for the rest of my life. I may marry into The Republicans, but I will never be one of them. I am perversely happy about being part of The Academia, which allows me to stand astride two classes like a seasick court jester, free to laugh at both the haves and the have nots while trying not to vomit from nervousness.

Since the divorce has gotten underway, my mother and sisters have rented an apartment in an historic building near the state capitol. Their neighbor is an elderly Tennessee political figure of some note, a man known for his top hats and a run at the governor's office a few years ago when no democrat was willing to even try to move the Republican party out of power.

This apartment building is exactly where I would live in Nashville if I ever lost my mind and moved back. It is furnished with things almost ugly enough to be cool, and is within walking distance of loads of fun things. Predictably my teen sister loves it and my youngest sister, Abby, is not as happy. There is no yard, and no other children her age nearby. While she is happy to have moved and enjoys her new school, downtown Nashville offers little by way of entertainment for an 11 year old. Because of the divorce, my Grandmother has temporarily moved in with my mother and sisters to help out for a bit.

Too often Abby ends up inside with my grandmother, and I thought that sounded fun until I remembered that Grandma is fifteen years older than when she played with me at that age. I was stricken by how old my grandmother now is when visiting she and Abby last. When I was 11, Grandma and I went to museums; we played board games and walked around historic districts. I thought Abby and Grandma would be going to Fort Nashboro or buying memberships to the Frist. Not so. A walk even up a few stairs leaves Grandma now winded, age and weight having caught up with her at last. I worry about them both, because I love them.

Downtown Nashville is not an area kind to the very young or elderly. I am approached by aggressive beggars each time I visit, and downtown lacks basic amenities like grocery stores or pharmacies. There are no cab stands or trendy shopping districts except for the short strip for tourists unlucky enough to arrive in town 10 years too late to visit the music business. Restaurants close at 5 or 6, when the workers leave the state buildings for the day. There are no green parks for playing, and even if there were Grandma and Abby wouldn't feel safe. In short, downtown Nashville is not like Atlanta or even Knoxville. Downtown Nashville lacks a community of families, although it seems to be populated now by young single people more and more. Perhaps families will arrive in a few years, if the single people don't move out when they decide to breed.

But for now Abby and Grandma sit in the shadow of a state capitol run by people who detest cities and love suburbs. I sit in Atlanta, and I worry.

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