Golden Gate

Golden Gate is where I live. No, seriously. Golden Gate is the official name my neighborhood. No heaven jokes here.

I am a second generation Golden Gate resident, and so are six or seven other houses in shouting distance of my house. I’ve spent lots of time in other states and countries, but Golden Gate will always be my home. The Wall Street Journal came here in the eighties, trying to debunk the “myth” of the Cosby Show asking, “Are there really a prosperous African Americans who thrive, or are the Cosbys merely the imaginary friends of Bill?  Where are these so called Cosby families?”  Out of their research came an article entitled, Where The Black Middle Class Really Lives.  It highlighted our neighborhood, and about a dozen others across the country.  And in the great tradition of if-a-big-city-newspaper-says-you-exist-then-you-do  We were here.  And a lot of us still are. Here, and now that some time has passed, people widely and publicly believe that there is no shame in being African American, and middle class at the same time.

My mom and grandma planted this garden when I was small.  These days, I tend it with my daughter.

My mom and grandma planted this garden when I was small. These days, I tend it with my daughter.

There are no street lights in Golden Gate; no sidewalks, no city buses, no..nothing. The founding neighbors designed it that, way, intentionally, and have fought to keep it that way even since. If you miss just one exit, you’re on your way to the real country, and it’s no joke getting back to town from there. While we live inside the limits of one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., we do not reflect the city in that way at all. Golden Gate keeps it simple. If you love them, and plan to live with them, stay.

We have always been proud to be a good neighborhood, with good neighbors. It has been proven that the neighborhoods that qualify as the safest in the country are those where the neighbors know one another. And now that the original builders of our homes here are retiring to smaller places, things are changing. There are new people coming, and we don’t always understand one another- the old people and the new ones.

There was, briefly, a rash of burglaries in Golden Gate. We old Gaters were stunned, and a little scared. What if the burglaries turned to home invasions?   We panicked, and held a meeting, where people argued. We slipped for a while, and forgot that Neighbor is also a verb. It is not living near one another that makes us neighbors, it is living with each other that makes us earn the title Neighbor.

In the end the only solution became evident-Old Gaters had to make friends with the new families, and teach them the traditions of Golden Gate.  Curb your dog, sign for packages, wait until after eight in the morning to mow the lawn… Call the police when suspicious activity happens here, in this place we love. We don’t mind our business, we mind OUR business – the neighborhood’s business.  We are going to practice neighboring our neighbors, so that we can look out for one another again. The way we used to, and the way we still can.

My mother loves to say, “If you’re broke, or depressed- throw a party.  It’ll help.”  And so, we will.  Even though she doesn’t live up here in Golden Gate these days, we’re going to take her advice.

Neighbor: a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.

Neighbor: a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans: to be a neighbor to someone in distress.

My younger daughter and I walked into the nearest grocery store one day to find a man with a large handlebar mustache dressed in jeans, a white shirt, and a giant blue turban. He was smiling widely at her, laughing a little.  No problem; people laugh at her all the time, largely because she breaks into song and dance when she’s happy, which is quite a bit.

Anyway, my girl saw this guy in a giant blue turban while she was line dancing near the avocados, and stopped dead in her tracks. It takes a lot to interrupt a good shuffle from that one.
“Whoa! Where do you come from?” She asked him excitedly.
“From India, originally.”
“What’s the name of your city?” She asked, as if she knew the name of any city in India. He told her and then named a street near ours, saying he’d just moved into Golden Gate.

“Yay! We’re neighbors!”  He smiled and raised his eyebrows at me while I nodded. “So, is turquoise your favorite color?” She asked, not caring what street he lived on; poor child was in love with his turban, unable to look away.
The man laughed and said that he loved every color, and asked her what her favorite color might be.
“Oh, I would definitely get a pink one of those.” She told him, batting her lashes a little bit, and pointing toward his turban. He roared laughing, and I struggled not to vomit, not only because my daughter was flirting with strangers, but because she was being SO culturally insensitive and not even meaning it. I was mortally embarrassed.
Before we left she asked him, “Are you coming to the neighborhood party this summer?”
“Definitely,” he said. “Are we going to dance there?”
“Definitely,” she echoed. “I dance everywhere. See you in Golden Gate!”
He put his hands on his hips, shook his shoulders a little bit and said, “See you there.”

Walking home.

Dancing home.

Thanks, amen.

About thanks amen

Michelle is an artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin whose professional experience spans working as an educator, nonprofit executive, and consultant. She has a fear of clowns and pecans, and works every day to listen at least twice as much as she talks.
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