A new day in the neighborhood

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Jan. 13, 2005

Dear Julie,

White fog clung to the top of the river like frosting early one morning this week. The beauty stopped my walk.

Most everybody who still lives in their hometown or has returned to live there probably has mixed feelings toward it. But the longer I live in Cape Girardeau, the more moments like that occur.

I don't like Cape Girardeau when it's being parochial. Cape Girardeau will not be an even better place when every chain store in existence finally has an outlet here. It will be an even better place to live when the community's quality of life always comes first.

Nothing should be more important to a community than the quality of its residents' lives.

Living on South Lorimier Street hasn't always been peaceful or even safe, but we've stayed because DC loves our house. She blurts out the words at least once a week, perhaps reacting to the moment sunlight makes the stained-glass windows glow or to some detail of 90-year-old woodwork I haven't even noticed.

Our house is no showplace. On any given day, a door knob and two or three light fixtures are sure to be malfunctioning. The floors need redoing, especially since Alvie the unhousebroken beagle came to live with us. The stairs to the second floor have been gnawed.

It's a "My Funny Valentine" house: "Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable/Yet you're my favorite work of art."

We also stay because we believe our neighborhood can become a good one.

Last summer was horrible, though. For us it was like being in Panama when the American troops besieging Manuel Noriega played loud rock 'n' roll as a weapon.

Some people in the apartment building across the street hung out on their porches all night, and a street party continued until early in the morning. Music boomed from cars parked in front of the building. They didn't care.

We called the police. They drove by. Sometimes they stopped. The police leaving was the signal for the party to resume.

Drugs were bought and sold on the street day and night.

It looked like we were going to have to find a different neighborhood to live in.

Then a neighbor down the block just as perturbed by the situation called a meeting. The owner of the building was invited. To his credit, he came. He admitted he couldn't control what was going on. He wanted out.

So in partnership with a neighbor couple, DC and I bought the building and a house next door to it. We didn't want to, but there are some things you have to do.

It wasn't going to be that easy.

Just before the deal was to close, a mysterious fire forced everyone to move out of the building. The deal almost fell through, then was back on thanks to some good lawyering. The smoke damaged the building but spared us the job of evicting some of our less neighborly neighbors.

Yes, we do have alibis.

Now the windows are boarded up, and most of the trash has been carted away. The building once considered prime housing in Cape Girardeau has a renovation in its future.

The neighborhood is almost quiet. The dealers are doing business elsewhere, no doubt. That gives us no satisfaction.

But maybe this is how any neighborhood changes for the better. Like the harassed townspeople in an old Western, it stands together and finds a way to make those who don't care leave.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian

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