“Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more
‘Cause when life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door
Think this through with me, let me know your mind
Wo, oh, what I want to know, is are you kind.” – Uncle John’s Band, The Grateful Dead
I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.
When Jesse was a young lad one day he proclaimed with a sigh, “I love these lands,” the Kentlands that is. Sue, Jeremy and I are leaving the Kentlands, moving to Wilmington, NC. We’ve lived here for nearly 21 years.
There are all sorts of sound reasons why this is something we should do. Sue and I will both be retired, so we need to live somewhere with a lower cost of living. Our financial advisers tell us now is the time to take the equity out of our house to improve our retirement savings. Wilmington is a smaller place, with a vibrant arts community, two colleges, a great music scene and our new house is only 15 minutes from the beach.
Still, I didn’t think it would be this hard.
We chose the Kentlands in part because we would build our own house. It would be splendid; we would pick the layout and all the special things that would become our dream house. God we were naïve.
But mainly we hoped for walkable neighborhoods and a strong sense of community. Designer Andres Duany calls it the “New Urbanism,” replacing typical suburban sprawl with high density, no cul de sacs, all through streets. You get to know your neighbors. Our boys could walk to school. And our oldest, Jeremy, could walk and meet people and meet people and walk. Jeremy has Williams Syndrome, a genetic condition that comes with a gift for music; he is a brilliant drummer, and he has a relentless desire to make new friends, with a beaming smile and a catchy phrase. “You don’t really know who your parents are until you’re born.”
This has been a special place to live. Our family has experienced nothing like it. We’ve had our share of sad times, but even then, especially then, our friends and neighbors held us up and got us through.
I knew we were living in the right place when I drove up the alley after work one day and there were a few women hanging out with Sue standing by the side of the house drinking wine. I was hoping to see them later on that winter with a barrel fire to keep them warm.
And then there were the alley rats, Jeremy and Jesse and the other neighbor boys hurtling their big wheels from the top of the alley to the street, as nervous mothers stood at the bottom to keep them out of traffic. Of course they would go faster and faster and pretend to blast through the mom barricade. But it was just boys doing what they do, pissing off their moms.
Saturday morning swim meets and Clyde’s booming voice of encouragement spurring them on, fast or slow until they crossed the finished line. Interminable Wednesday night B meets, as we would secretly pray for lightning along the horizon so we could finally go home.
I remember the great community super soaker fight and its prize a simple red flag. We all wore targets and when you got shot you were out of the game. We were the Hill people determined to defeat the flat landers. Jesse got the flag, he and his pals, Will and Derrick, and the Boeckl boys. They were so proud.
Halloween when other neighborhoods miles away would bring their kids to the Kentlands because the homes were so close together. Jeremy would get his candy and eat it as fast as he could. Jesse used a pillow case and made multiple forays, and then he would hoard his bounty until Easter.
“It’s the same story the crow told me; it’s the only one he knows
Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go
Ain’t no time to hate, barely time to wait
Wo, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go.”
The alley rats became teenagers and then young men on their way to college and futures unknown. Some became lost boys who struggled, but eventually made it back home, save for Jesse.
There are times when I walk Dusty a large black crow lands on a house across the street and calls out. I imagine it to be Jesse’s spirit laughing out loud because now he knows all the answers and abides in peace evermore.
But the one constant through it all has been Jeremy. He’s no longer that “severely unusual,” boy in constant motion. Well, he is always still in constant motion, but in a more mature way. Jeremy has thrived here. Most people think of him as the unofficial mayor. This place was made for him. He has more friends than I can count or know. I remember how we would always admonish him not to wander around so much when we were eating out at a restaurant. Turns out, he was just training as a host.
It was here in the Kentlands that he met Wes Crawford, his dear friend and drumming mentor, who wisely guided his development to the amazing skills he has today. Soon he will crash the music scene in Wilmington. And although our new neighborhood is nothing like the Kentlands, I have no doubt that he will soon have more than enough friends.
It’s going to be hard to take him away from here, hard for Sue and me too.
Harder than I thought it would be.