Decades after white flight, an apprehensive return trip

City Diary

February 13, 2002|By Diane Reynolds

FOR THE first time in decades, we are returning to Edmondson Village, driving past Lyndhurst Elementary School to the old neighborhood and our rowhouse on Mountwood Road. We had left there in the early 1960s. I now have children.

The street to our old house is marked "Do Not Enter" on one end and "One Way, Do Not Enter" on the other end. We drive down the service alley behind our old street.

My father and brother note how clean and well-kept the yards are. My mother has died.

We give up trying to figure out the perplexing traffic pattern and turn. We head the wrong way down a one-way street.

But here we are. We stop the car and stare. The red brick rowhouse is still and tidy. A metal awning has been added to the front porch, and the three steps up to it painted green. My father recalls mowing the back yard, then carrying the reel mower through the house to mow the front.

I long to get out of the car, walk up the porch steps, knock on the door and meet the current owner.

A dread of crossing racial boundaries holds me back.

I know I would not hesitate were the neighborhood still white or racially mixed or if every white person had not conspicuously fled 35 years before.

We look at the house for a while, possibly longing for some more tactile way to reclaim the past, then slowly move on.

We swerve to avoid a car heading the right way down the street.

We drive past our old apartment, where as a 2-year-old I would stand on the sofa and look out the window for the ice cream truck. Slowly, we come to the playground. "Mommy, can we get out and play here?" my 6-year-old Will asks plaintively as we pass the playground.

My father tells me that, for a time, drug dealers used to dump dead bodies here. Will looks with open desire at the bright-colored jungle gym on which kids are climbing. I don't see my adored sandbox anymore, but I see the old metal frame of the swing sets I used 40 years ago. The swings are missing. I have a sudden memory of my mother sitting with her friend, Nicki, on a bench at this playground, knitting an afghan.

A playground is a playground. I'd love to let Will and his twin brother, Nick, and their older sister, Sophie, play on my first playground. It's a parent's dream of continuity, of community, of immortality.

We are silent for a moment. A police car is parked just down the street. It's midday, quiet, only mothers and children to be seen.

What kind of spectacle would it be for three generations of a white family to trek out to a playground that has been exclusively black territory for two generations? How can our children understand this -- what racial segregation means in Baltimore, all that it denies, large and small?

We stay in the car, gazing, then drive back home.

Today's writer

Diane Reynolds lived in Edmondson Village in Baltimore City as a child and now lives in Columbia. She is the education reporter for the Laurel Leader.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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