Thursday, September 25, 2008

Old Money

Realizing That You've Moved to One Of America's Richest Counties

I've only lived at my current digs for a year and I'm a hermit so I'm not particularly familiar with the neighborhood. Naturally, I've found a new grocer, hardware, swimming pool, bakery, tailor and all the other things you have to rediscover when you endure the nightmare of moving.

But I haven't yet taken an extensive Sunday drive and looked at the neighborhood and the homes to see just who my new neighbors are. To be truthful, I lived here for about a year when I first moved out on my own about 40 years ago. I have some familiarity with the town I now live in and east of here toward Chicago, where I'm from. But the real money seems to start with the town to the west of here and I have had very little reason to go that way, so I'm still unfamiliar with the west side of the county for the most part.

Today, I was still actually in or less than 500 yards west of my town, but I noticed something which told me a great deal about where I now live.

To digress again, I have to admit that I noticed today's actual fact quite sometime in the past year, but the MEANING of what I saw didn't hit me until just today when I noticed it fresh again.

And one further digression about the county I now live in. From the little I've seen and the little more I already knew, the money in this county is old money. If you look around at the older houses, they are large but not ostentatious. They are the kind of houses that are large because they have many rooms and maybe an addition or two. These houses were built back when the successful had part of the family living with them and perhaps an employee and a guest or two. Back then, people didn't come and go within days and stay in motels like they do today. If people traveled, they stayed weeks or months and were treated like family. Unlike the huge new homes of today, the bedrooms were not 40'x50'. 50-70 years ago before 102" screen TVs, the personal possessions of even the rich fit in one closet. So while these houses are large, they are understated. The lots are roomy but not immense. The landscape is well cared for but they're just nice. They don't try to outdo each other.

And the last thing you realize when you look hard at these homes is that they are works of art. Unlike most of the Metropolitan Chicago Area where tract homes prevail, here each home was designed by a different architect, just for that family, just for that lot and they have a quiet beauty. Nothing is mass produced. Each home is made of a different material. Each is oriented just a bit differently on the lot. Each home was fit to its space. Unlike the typical tract home developments, there is no evidence here that hectares were scraped clean so that the economies of scale would be most available to the builders. These homes were built with respect for the land. Even when they used the same material, they didn't use the same material. Two adjacent homes may be masonry, but one is brick and the next is stone. Across the street, one may be wood clapboard and the next is cedar shake.

I'm not an architect or a builder, but I am an artist. I didn't look all this up about the area. I just looked at the neighborhood and I know a work of art when I see one. I can recognize the character of the artist, his assistants and his patrons by looking at his art. And I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that my evaluation of the neighborhood is substantially correct.The overall impression of the neighborhood is that it's just another middle class neighborhood full of modest single family homes, until you take a really good look. Then you realize that these people have enough money to live in homes that comprise a whole area designed piece by piece by hundreds of people who had the talent, if not the fame, of Frank Lloyd Wright. These are the kind of people who have to call in Norm Abrams and This Old House when they want repairs to match.

So let me give you my evaluation of the detail I noticed this morning.

I went to the Post Office to mail a letter and on the way back I stopped at the forest preserve for a short walk which I didn't take. As usual I made the stupid excuse that I was on too much of a roll, work wise, this morning to interrupt the flow by taking a 10 minute walk. Can I make excuses or what?

But while I was sitting there arguing with myself it hit me again. I saw the edge of the forest.

I don't know where these type are any more, but forest preserve parking lots used to be just a large space in the middle of the woods. In the Chicago area, as of about 50 years ago, they were paved. As of about 15-30 years ago, they put in nice curbs and painted lines like a supermarket parking lot. They had to do it to keep people from driving 500 yards further into the meadow because they were too lazy to schlep their barbecue grill to the picnic area.

The last civilized improvement to forest preserves (other than paved jogging/bicycle trails, water fountains, baseball diamonds, socker pitches, play grounds, restrooms and permanent cooking grills) was a 5'-20' border beyond the parking lot curb. This border was usually just created by mowing the indigenous vegetation. Because it was mown short, the area would fill in with grass, dandelions and other compact weeds.

Not where I live!

I had noticed before that, at my local forest preserve, the area just beyond the parking lot curb was manicured but it never hit me before; "This is the forest preserve, not City Hall or the local History Museum".The grass adjacent to the curb is not short prairie plants. It is not wild grass. It is not even crab grass which by virtue of time and tenacity has taken over. The area adjacent to the curb is SOD!! In some areas the strip between the curb and the forest is wider and there are a few individual trees within the parking strip. The base of these trees are CULTIVATED and MULCHED WITH WOOD CHIPS!! It's like an airplane that has both first class and coach. Up to the curtain, on the one side there are wide seats and real metal flatware while on the other side, you are seated like sardines and given plastic sporks with which to eat. In my forest, for the first 20-40 feet the trees live like kings. Beyond that are the poor relations within the preserve.

Again, to be completely honest, this particular preserve is also home to the county forest preserve vehicle maintenance facility. I imagine that has something to do with how well the grounds are cared for. Still, where I park and where I noticed the landscaping are far from the maintenance facility.

And I'm not complaining! Not in the least. It's nice for a change to be able to visit a forest preserve where the local visitors treat the park as a wonder of nature rather than as an amusement park. In this preserve there's barely a stray scrap of paper to be found let alone beer cans and food wrappers. If my belief in the theory that people get the government they deserve, I think I will enjoy getting to know my new neighbors.

I like it. - © 2008 The Chewed End All rights reserved.

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Seamus O'Bròg is an artist and freelance writer who tries to turn life's irritations into life's lessons.

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