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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Neighborhoods

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Heather Curlee-Novak
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The domicile in which I live has always been important to me.  I grew up on Troy Court in South Bend Indiana, then Alpine St., Twyckenham and then Emerson Ave for most of high school. I moved out a bit early (a bit young but needing to escape family struggles), into a furnished second story apartment above a house on Pleasant Street.  I lived on both 8th and 9th streets in Mishawka , and on Columbia  St. in South Bend by the post office when it wasn’t charming.  I’ve lived in Chicago and Denver and South Bend again on Altgeld Street and then MacArthur Ct.  Now Valparaiso, Indiana.  With every move, the selection of space had two requirements aside from being affordable:  walking distance to something edible or doable, and it had to feel good.

Like many of you, I adore hardwood floors.  I want quirky, I’ve never lived long term in an apartment with carpeting and a dining area.  Not everyone cares about enjoying or decorating their living space, but those of us who do know what I mean when I say it has to feel good.  Many times I would ask to be alone with the space, and just sit on the floor and be present.  I’d notice the light, or the openness; I’d listen to the sounds and think about my things and where they would fit.  I made several realtors pull out their hair when I would walk into a house and know instantly it was not right for me.  I’ve had an unusual ratio of delightful oversized claw foot tubs in my powder rooms, even in two of my apartments.  Also, lots of hardwood floors and the one time I didn’t, I got permission to rip up the sad brown carpet myself.  Beneath was terribly distressed wood and I coined my personal version of “Cottage floors’ and left them as is.

I like to have food nearby, because I eat it often.  I’ve had a greasy spoon diner,  Greek restaurant, 7-11, the old Cira’s, Bob’s 19th Hole, and Zephyr’s Ice Cream parlor near my places.  I love exploring neighborhoods!  I’ve enjoyed geocaching as a way to find nooks and crannies hidden to others.  I usually have a dog and walking with them uncovers a whole new world of slowing down to sniff everything, to chat with other people walking their dogs (we only exchange the dog’s names, tho?). I notice little things I’d drive by altogether too quickly.  We now live half a mile from our city’s downtown, and we love to wander as a family or individually to meet a friend or take in entertainment or just run errands on foot instead of by car.  

I’ve grown to treasure how much more life happens when I walk through our neighborhood.  At 5:30am, I meet other neighbors as they walk their dogs or head out for a run.  As a family, we might walk to see a friend in the neighborhood, or stroll after dinner with the dogs saying hello to everyone we see.  We talk about happenings in town, local meetings of interest or concern and each other.  We share the news and politics and who moved in or out.  My daughters and I walk to and from school most days in a walking school bus of friends and neighbors.  It is one of my favorite things, coffee mug in hand, to walk far enough behind them I might as well stay home, but I want to see my friends, too.   Parenting hacks are shared, and excess tomatoes, baked goods, love.

Recently we walked to the end of our street with dinner for a new mom.  It was hot and I wasn’t thrilled, but unfortunately I have taught my daughters to avoid using our car when possible.  We care about the environment and make good efforts to walk or bike and this time they voted to hoof it.  We carried dinner and a gift, and when we arrived another neighbor was there too.  We took turns holding the baby, eating the rotisserie chicken and slaw salad and hummus.  My friend Amy’s heart is more Kenyan than American and I admire her simple approach to new motherhood.  Her home was peaceful, warm, and had hardwood floors of course.  Her husband Edwin was mowing the lawn, and then came in to hug, and eat, and smile.  Their house, like ours, is smaller…and it doesn’t need to be any different.  We were at peace together. 

Good neighborhoods aren’t about big fancy houses; they are about the people living together in the same place, the same streets.  What makes the places I’ve lived better or less than, are the connections I’ve had to the people around me.  The place I live in matters because I want to invite people into it.  The neighborhoods I’ve lived in and walked through have more value when I’ve walked from front yard to doorstep, person-to-person, friend-to-friend. My life is good because of hardwood floors and yet another claw foot tub…but the people living around my pretty house are what make me feel at home.

Music: "Neighborhood Music" by Lil Rob

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