Same street, different story

Stories matter. They matter so much we will cling to them even when they are no longer working, even when they are contrary to the evidence of our own eyes.

I’m thinking of a story, of course. In this case, it’s the story of two neighbours. The location is Rochester, New York. The time is the late 1970s and early 1980s.

On one side of the street lives a young couple. They have moved from Seattle, Washington, so the man can start his professorial career. The woman has come along, as women have done for generations.

University of Rochester

Leaves of Library Road, University of Rochester, from Carl M's Flickr Photostream

They don’t want to buy a second car so they look for a house near the university. They’re sure of his job. She’ll have to look for hers. So they opt for a neighbourhood within walking distance of his office.

They can see the houses were built by people who took pride in their work. In the basements are brass plaques with the names of the builders. Gumwood trim lines every room. Floors are oak; fittings are brass.

The neighbourhood is in a downward spiral. Once a solidly middle-class area, it has been emptied of people afraid of a mixed-race street. Some houses are boarded up. Most shelter families managing to make payments, mow the lawn, plant gardens, and welcome new people. Houses are affordable.

The young couple settles in. They meet the neighbours. They make payments, mow the lawn, plant a garden, and exchange friendly greetings. They invite new friends to dinner, polish the woodwork, read the New York Times and talk about how much they enjoy their new home.

Across the street lives another couple. They are in their 70s and have lived in their white-painted house for decades. They have watched the neighbourhood change. It is no longer homogenous. People have moved away. Some houses are boarded up.

Every day they read the local paper. They track every break-in, act of vandalism, and assault in the city. Although none of those happen on their street, they could.

They live in fear. Their neighbourhood is dangerous. They wish they could move, but property values are low. They don’t understand why the young couple feels safe, why they chose to live on this street.

Same street. Same neighbourhood. Different stories.

I know this is a true story because I was the young wife who uprooted from Seattle and found a job with the Rochester Public Library and then with the Greece School District. I was living in this house when I stumbled onto storytelling and became a life-long convert. But the neighbourhood I lived in was very different from my neighbours’ because they believed a different story.

Stories. They’re like colored glasses. They tint our view of the world. We must choose them carefully.

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Karen - May 23, 2010

Hi Cathryn,

Another wonderful post. I agree with your premise, about choosing stories carefully but the elder couple, they were viewing their world through their memories. They did indeed believe a different story because they had lived it. It must have been very sad for them to watch their once beautiful neighborhood go through difficult economic times.

You and you husband were looking at the neighborhood with fresh and eager eyes. Thank you for sharing this dual perspective.

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storyroute admin - May 23, 2010

Excellent insight, Karen, and a sensitive perspective on their sense of loss.

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Anne - May 24, 2010

Wonderful story Catherine. It reminds me of many conversations I’ve had with friends here, who in the face of growing concern about crime were choosing whether to buy a house alarm and extra locks, or to choose not to live in fear. I’m happy to be one who chooses not to live in fear.

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Carla Holm - May 24, 2010

Cathryn,

I remeber that time well. Eric spent a few days with you in Rochester while working for Anheuser-Busch. Different perspectives are always enlightening. That is why communicating with others is so important and sharing different views of the same problem.

I am experiencing this at work, so I hope we can have a meeting of the minds over our perspective views.

Carla

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peggy b - May 24, 2010

catherine
very cool story, hey as newly married, and the cup half full most things are wonderful
and will always be so. life was good in early days. our first home was square room
and kitchen for one in an alley in long beach near where my mother worked heaven on earth. see ya peggy

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storyroute admin - May 24, 2010

I get the sense you have the kind of sunny nature that would make heaven on earth wherever you landed.

Cathryn

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