Most of 1950s television took place in the suburbs. The Andersons of "Father Knows Best" lived in a two-story house with separate dining room. Jim and Margaret never had neighbors over. Their challenges were family- not neighborhood-centric. No wonder the American Dream was a single house in the suburbs.
Yet, among us Baby Boomers our deepest memory of early happiness was playing in the old neighbordhoods. I have been chasing that since. I moved here. I moved there. I even tried to buy a condo at 227 Bay Street, Jersey City, New Jersey where I lived until I was 11 and the family fled to a single-family house.
I wanted people who cared about me, even if they were gossips and kvetchers. I wanted to walk everywhere. I wanted a shared notion of who were the bad guys.
Finally I found it in the desert. Here in Tucson, Arizona, along North First Avenue are everyone and everything I need. Although I have only lived in this neighborhood two weeks, the Native American woman a few doors down told me not to make plans on my birthday this Saturday. She has a "special event" in store for me, she said. Going to a sweat lodge? Receiving wisdom from a shaman?
A wellness Third Place on North First is a four-minute walk from my door on East Roger Road. There I met a woman who makes porcelain dolls and wants to learn to weave. None of us, including the head of the organization, has a lot of money - just like the old neighborhood. She and her husband relocated here from pricey Seattle, Washington. I can also walk to the public library and my 12-step groups. Of course, no one back in the 50s in Jersey City belonged to 12-step groups. Instead they drank themselves to an early death. No, that wasn't a perfect world.
The sense of belonging that I experienced as a child I have recaptured as a woman in her late 60s. Less driven, I can turn down work assignments that pay peanuts. No, we don't need a whole village. Just several long long blocks.