Our son, his wife, and their two kids live in the city of Houston, in the Old Sixth Ward – one of the few neighborhoods which have not been razed and turned into cardboard-like condominiums. It is located tight up against the core of downtown, and the contrast between the high rise skyscrapers and the modest but charming houses is dramatic. It is the contrast between yin and yang, right brain and left brain, old and new. The neighborhood reminds me of the setting of the movie and book, To Kill A Mockingbird – I half expect to see Gregory Peck leaving a house for court, the weight of good versus evil slowing his walk. But instead there are modern families finding the good in preserving the past and their connection to history.
The houses have that nineteenth century quality, with gingerbread trim, the essential porch for sociability, shotgun long narrow shapes to fit narrow lots, and happy colors like pale pink and spring greens. And front doors are always special and detailed. There are stories in details.
Even though the lots are narrow and small almost every house has a garden in the front yard. Fig trees, orange trees, nandina, boxwood, and shrub-like rosemary are common there. But the biggest impression was that the whole neighborhood was a garden. The houses were like ornaments, the streets and sidewalks like garden pathways, and the small gardens were like parterres, rimmed in boxwood.
The whole neighborhood seemed integrated, producing a feeling of wholeness the way a good garden does. It was a world within a world, a deeper layer of nourishment which helped us all feel more human and sheltered.