By Edith Morgan
As I look around my neighborhood, and as I think about friends in my age range, it seems that something important has changed: the old family homestead no longer is: immigrant families once came, bought a triple decker or duplex, raised a family there, maybe brought the grandparents over, and several generations lived in the same house. The tradition in many nations (most notably, among the Irish) was that at least one of the children would remain in the family home after the parents were gone. My friend Martha, recently deceased, went back to Wareham and bought her family home; Peggy around the corner bought HER parents’ home and lived there until her death. My neighbor Bill followed the old Irish tradition also, and is still in the family home.
But now I look around my neighborhood, and more and more I see the big old gracious houses where my neighbors raised six and seven children, standing empty, waiting to be sold to strangers. And it is saddening, because something is getting lost in the fabric of neighborliness that was the glue that held together the neighborhood, provided familiarity and the safety that comes from knowing the people around you, and the comforting feeling that help and caring is always near.
Perhaps it is because we all live longer and our young ones can not have the house for so many years, or perhaps it is that so often the newer generation want to be independent, want to have the newest fixtures, want to be nearer to their work, or want to follow their spouses. Whatever the reason, what I miss most is the commitment to the neighborhood, the neighborhood school, the support for neighborhood stores, and the “nosy neighbor” who was a tradition in many neighborhoods, and could be counted upon to know who came, who went, what everyone was doing, and who would report her (it was usually a “her”) findings . a number of us grew up staying on the “straight and narrow path” because we knew we were observed and reported upon. Annoying as we might have found that, it did prevent the need for extensive foot patrols!
And of course the younger generations travel much lighter than we did (I am in my eighties, and attached to thousands of books and memorabilia) and are more likely to throw things out. I can remember how many times my mother saved something, always sure that someday it would be of use – and surprisingly often, she was right.
And so, as I watch the huge dumpsters being filled with the accretions of nearly a century, I am saddened that it all has to be taken to be crushed and burned , unwanted, unused, and no longer loved….and the many things that are memory triggers for children and grandchildren are gone, though I hope that they had a chance to save a few things that will serve to remind them.
Many large, roomy, well-built houses throughout our city sit empty, waiting for someone with imagination and an appreciation of the finer aspects of living – the high ceilings, the finely-milled woodwork, the tall old trees, the obvious care that was taken by the builders who put up these homes with a view to the future. But I worry that in this age of digital clocks, where we see only the moment, of plastic, of constant change for the sake of change, that we may not have enough imagination to see the grace and beauty in these places, and let them deteriorate. And Preservation Worcester can not do it all!