The street of my childhood: dreamed and remembered.
Nature rooted itself into both my neighborhood and my memory in numerous forms. My house – constructed of treated wood, rock, and metal, was surrounded by greenery and flora. I remember the ditches on the side of the road filled with colorful weeds. I built flower chains by knotting their stems together – at that time I couldn’t tell the difference between a weed and a flower. I remember the magnolia tree on the corner, we had to cut it down because the leaves refused to decay and killed the grass. My mom previously put fresh magnolias in the kitchen, in the center of the dining table. After we cut the tree down she switched to Whole Foods’ hydrangeas. In the ground remains an indentation where the stump was removed. When I ran around in the front my dad would warn me about that area – that I might twist my ankle. Eventually I did.
I remember the oak trees canopying soft warm sunlight onto the gray concrete of Neil Avenue, my childhood street. In the late summer, I would lay in my front yard on a blanket to soak up the last bits of sun, now burned out from being in full-flame for four months. From 1pm to 3pm, I had the ability to sit, focus, and finish a book. I remember having picnics on the back deck. “I remember bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwiches and iced tea in the summertime” (Brainard 20). I remember my mom bringing the tea out in the blue-rimmed glass pitcher and pouring a half-glass for me. I remember the trees on the side of the curb. I remember the roots cracked the sidewalk so badly, large chunks were displaced and deep crevices formed in the walkway. When my mom would take us on walks, I hopscotched the fragments and tripped on unexpected pieces.
I remember the old pecan trees in the front and back yards and the lot behind us; they reminded me everyday that the house I lived in rest on a former plantation. Old Aurora, Algiers, was built on the Duverje Plantation, named after the Duverjes who settled in the area in 1812. I remember the rusted axe head, army tag, and chunky spearhead we found deep in the garden: artifacts of previous dwellers. When we found it, I wondered if the spear head belonged to a Native American or an enslaved African. I wondered if it had been used as a weapon.
I remember the rain would turn many front yards into miniature lakes (complete with frogs, mosquito larvae, and algae), that I would run through with my brothers, Sebastian and Gabriel. I remember getting soaked in the rainwater outside, then my mom bringing us in to take a hot bath. I remember the wet leaves on the curb would slowly start to smell of rot and mold, and we would use them as fertilizer for tomato and banana pepper plants. I remember the lime and lemon trees next door that smelled sweet and fragrant during late May days, when the sun commenced a high-temp broil over the city.
Old Aurora was a quiet neighborhood, consisting of mostly older white couples and a few young families like my own. I remember the one party we visited at the house across the street, there was a bouncy house and it was one of the few times I met kids my age in my neighborhood. I remember looking at the older man who walked 7 little dogs occasionally – all white Jack Terriers that yapped and bolted back and forth around their owner. I remember watching lil’Henry from down the street chase after my dog. At that time, he still didn’t understand how to verbally communicate but he managed to make do through motions with his hands. I remember the stares shot at us from neighbors when we stayed in the driveway for too long, joking with my uncles and aunties and saying extended goodbyes. I remember Westchester, which intersected Neil a block from my house: in the middle of the intersection lie a cratered pothole that my dad would drive over to make us bounce in the car. When I learned to ride my bike, I fell on one of the blocks of concrete lifting from the ground and got a scab on my knee. My family complained to the city numerous times about Westchester, it was a torn up and riddled with holes and bumps. It didn’t have a curb, just a jagged edge. It reminds me of the Mississippi roads out in the country when I would visit my cousins.
Displacement has triggered most of my memories of my space as a child. Now in New York, I feel detached from the nature I was entwined with so tightly. When I see the concrete sidewalks of the city, I remember the grass and broken pathways of Neil. When I walk to class and look up at the sky, I remember oak branches and leaves, squirrels vaulting from one tree to another. When I smell the urine and vomit on 15th St., I remember the smells of citrus and dead leaves. I remember my childhood street when I walk down 2nd Avenue, and I long for its familiarity and security. I wonder if my experience here will only be the catalyst to remembrance of my hometown. I wonder if I can create the same attachments here, in a new city.