Bob Christen recently wrote in The Virginian Pilot about the deserted streets in the leafy suburbs of Virginia Beach. Apparently, as he drives around his neighborhood at night, he does not see folks relaxing on their front porches and talking with each other, like he used to do. Since he doesn’t see kids playing in the park or neighbors chatting across the fence, Bob figures that the people of Virginia Beach are glued to the television or the Internet in the dimly-lit family room at the rear of the house. Bob, where do you live? Certainly not in my Virginia Beach!
The house next door to me may appear dormant on Monday through Friday since Mom and Dad leave pretty early for work, taking turns dropping their two-year-old son at day care. But every evening around six there is a lot of activity on that end of the block, as the other young parents arrive home, their gang of two to four-year-olds grab their big wheels, and it’s party time down on the cul-de-sac. I can hear them laughing and calling after their children sometimes past eight o’clock. A couple of the Moms will deliver a second or third child over the course of the summer. I often walk through this group in the evenings, marveling at the parents’ energy after having worked all day and the children’s sheer delight with summer street life.
The house across the street is much like mine. There are two teen-age boys, Mom, Dad, a dog, and a couple of cats. That was until about two months ago, when Mom and Dad arrived home from Central America with a six-month-old baby girl, whom they had just adopted. Dad quickly realized that in order to do this right, their family needed more room. So, by himself, he started to build a thousand square feet of more space off the back of their house. Every Saturday morning the pickup trucks arrive early, and the Dad’s friends help out as much as they can. The teen-age sons take turns pushing their new little sister around the neighborhood in the stroller. This little girl is all of twenty pounds, but the spirit of family and friendship that she has brought to the house across the street is a joy to watch.
The house on the other side of mine holds Mr. and Mrs. Senior Citizen and their fifteen- year-old dog. The dog has had a series of ailments in the last year, but her biggest handicap is that she is blind. Every morning and every evening Mr. Senior Citizen slowly walks her around the block, always counterclockwise so the dog knows the way. This man always has a smile for you that really says he is happy to see you. If you stop to chat, he never complains about anything but is a patient listener to whatever is new in your life. He always tells you what nice kids you have, and when asked how his dog is doing, he says “Fine, she’s just fine.”
My Virginia Beach neighborhood is great, but it is not unique. There are countless streets in Virginia Beach where similar young families, middle-aged families, and senior citizens look after one another. Deserted leafy suburbs? I don’t think so. Bob, get out of your car and take a walk around your neighborhood. Get to know some of the Virginia Beach people who live in what appear to you as dimly- lit houses. You will not be disappointed.