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North by Southeast

by Yvan 1987

I'm a native Portander, born and raised (for the most part), in the southeast nieghborhood of Mount Tabor. Though I now live in North Portland, several miles and many years away, my childhood memories still live on in that sanctuary of my youth.

Many times, as I have walked through my present neighborhood, I have noticed how similar the houses and streets are to that of my grandparent's southeast home, where I spent much of my childhood. The streets of both are paved with white contrete embedded with river rock and patched with tar. Many corner curbs are edged with steel and the names of the streets are stamped in the sidewalks. The houses were built about the same time, soon after the turn of the century.

The most interesting details about the streets on the southeast are the little steel rings in the curbs. I once asked my grandfather what they were and he explained how people used to use horses to pull carriages and they would tie the reins to the hitching ring. Horses! I, who had never seen or touched are real horse, would stare in wonder at the strange heavy ring, and on quiet summer mornings, could almost hear the echoing clip of hooves in the narrow street.

From the window of my North Portland home, I can watch the long, leafy tendrils of an old willow tree gently brush the top of a rough wooden fence. The tree is certainly beautiful and graceful, but it only serves to remind me of a tree I played under as a child.

That tree on Southeast Fourty-nineth was tall, taller than the houses and immensely tall to me because it grew atop a typically raised yard with a stone garden retainer wall. It was no ordinary willow tree. Its supple arms patiently bore my Tarzan-like swinging. Without breach of concience, I would break off its tender fingers and playfully "whip" my brothers into submission, and they would chase me through the swaying veil of its branches. It never occurred to me that the tree wans't mine, even though it grew in someone else's yard. As far as I was concerned, the entire street was my playground.

As I grew older, I loved to roam the neighborhood and explore all the alleys and umpaved streets as I wound my way to my favorite park. Secluded areas were fertile ground for my imagination, and often became enchanted forests or wild jungles. Worry was far from me. When I finally reached my destination, I would sit and watch the trees, birds, squirrels and people with no thought for my safety.

I still love to explore my neighborhood. I take long, convoluted walks along the more quiet streets and drink in the beauty of each season in turn. But now, though I'm not really afraid, the reasons for fear are ever present in my mind. News of rapes, murder and muggings in daily doses have honed my imagination into a sense of vigilance. But this sense does not lessen the joy of each new discovery of the changing seasons. And I still like to sit and watch the trees, birds, squirrels and people.

Whenever I come across a narrow, concrete street lined with old-fashioned homes, see an old willow tree, take long walks or find a hitching ring in the curb, I am transported back to that familiar street in front of my grandparent's house and the happy days of childhood in Portland.

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