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June 13, 2013 / Robert Ross

Past is Present….


tumblr_m3yije0YSp1qlf642o1_1280This time of year, I have no need for an alarm clock. The birds awaken as the sky begins to light and there is no sleeping through their cacophonous greeting of the day. It is odd that in a world where most city dwellers are awakened by traffic noises, I am awakened by birds!

My neighborhood, Ormewood Park, was one of the original trolley suburbs of Atlanta, and still lies moments from downtown. It was carved out of farmland at the turn of the 1900’s as the city was resurrecting and recreating itself following the Civil War. The landscape surrounding the neighborhood figured heavily in the Battle of Atlanta. It experienced several layers of development from the 1910’s on which resulted in a comfortable neighborhood mixture of Craftsman bungalows, WWII era starter homes, a few ranch homes and even a dash of the new contemporary homes exemplified by Dwell! It also is a neighborhood of old trees, which explains the birds.

Another wonderful feature of the neighborhood is that it in many ways hearkens back to the halcyon time of the fictional Mayberry.  People know each other throughout the community. The teachers that work in our schools live in the neighborhood. As do the Policemen and Firefighter’s. Kid’s ride their bikes and walk to to and from school. Neighbors stop in the street to talk and visit as they work in their yards. There are many houses with chickens. In fact, across the street they have goats. Not your typical slice of suburbia!

Happy-Hour---Website-400pixelWhat I believe contributed to the development and preservation of this neighborhood and it’s adjacent sisters, was the imposition of Interstate 20 on the landscape of the city in the 1960’s. This man-made feature acts with all the presence of a river, cutting the neighborhoods from the rest of the city and living limited access points north. Streets that bear the same name occupy both sides of the concrete ribbon. Those portions of the neighborhoods to the north of the interstate languished and fell into a greater state of disrepair than those south.

As a result, we are very lucky to be able to share some of my favorite childhood memories with our children! We are around the corner from a Zesto’s. A local chain of restaurants that still serve soft ice cream cones. Twelve inches of swirled sweetness hand dipped in chocolate and then rolled in nuts. The famous Nut Brown Crown! And yes you can get it half vanilla and half chocolate!

Another vanishing feature from the national landscape of my childhood is the drive-in theater! We have the Starlight Drive-in a quick five minutes from the house. Opening in 1949 and now a multiplex with 6 screens, the Starlight shows first run films and always tries to have a family friendly screen. The last day  of school was celebrated by going to see the new Star Trek flick under the stars. We went with one set of friends and happily discovered about 30 other families from the school had the same idea! You can go to the drive-in 364 nights of the year. In our climate it is comfortable to sit in your folding camp chair from April into October. We have watched movies wrapped in blankets while drinking hot chocolate! As an added treat, the snack bar has also managed to maintain 1980’s pricing!the-last-drive-inn-starlight-six-drive-inn-corky-willis-and-associates-atlanta-photography

For the 4th of July we avoid some of the larger attractions that pull in thousands of people from the suburbs. We choose to drive to nearby Decatur to watch their fireworks in the town square. Families picnic and there is an orchestra that plays the requisite combination of movie themes and patriotic music in the bandstand prior to the show. Of course the peak is the 1812 Overture.

A recent addition to the neighborhood is the Sonic drive-in restaurant. It is a treat for the kids to go and have the food brought to your car! While they don’t have the window trays, it is a novel enough experience. If we are feeling the need for the real thing, and the trays, we can always go the the iconic Varsity, 10 minutes a way on Sunday!

I feel very lucky to be able to re-live these childhood memories with my children. They are gaining first hand knowledge of a vanishing America in the heart of a modern urban landscape.

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