Left on Whittier, left on Browning, right on Thoreau, left on Greenleaf, left on Poe.
These are the directions to the street where I grew up. The neighborhood of literary geniuses was lost on my idyllic childhood which was only concerned with the ice-cream truck navigating it’s way to my street, Poe Place, tucked in at the back of the Poet Section. Six well kept homes on a cul-de-sac filled with kids playing daily epic kickball games and not much else. It was our field of dreams.
I could have cared less who wrote what or when they wrote it even though my family was surrounded by books. My mom poured over Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, my father devoured mysteries and my sister and I craved everything Judy Blume. I never gave much thought to the legendary works of my neighborhood namesakes.
In high school and college my horizons were forcefully expanded but not my appreciation as I developed a loathing for Shakespeare and Melville that not even Cliff Notes could appease. I extend my sincere apologies to Mr. Smith, my high school English teacher. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I’ve never read anything by Greenleaf Whittier, Browning, Thoreau or Poe. Sure I’ve browsed excerpts and read some of their famous quotes but for me those poet luminaries remain the memories of my youth rather than the authors of Walden, The Bells and so many others.
Poe Place: King of the Mountain, Barbies on the front lawn, TV tag, hide-n-seek, forts under the Weeping Willow trees, drinking from the hose, one potato two potato for picking teams, teasing that sent you home crying and back out again because there was nothing to do inside, wearing soda tab tops as rings pretending they were from boys we liked, innocence lost with the death of our next door neighbor’s mom, first crushes, telling dirty jokes we didn’t understand and bologna/ketchup sandwiches.
Greenleaf Whittier: Greenleaf was home to my best friend and 6th grade arch enemy, the first time I heard the word bitch, illegal fireworks and the house you stayed away from. Whittier might as well have been in Pennsylvania, it was the thruway to our neighborhood and eventually got you to Poe Place.
Thoreau: Summers watching the 4:30 movie at my sister’s best friend’s house who was older and street wise (well as street wise as you could be in suburban New Jersey), we were allowed to make a mess in her kitchen cooking brownies, running carnivals for the little kids, I saw her spit on her Mom’s laundry when she got grounded and to this day I carry that moment with me.
Browning: The house on the corner that didn’t believe in Halloween.
It was poetry although not the same as what they teach you in English class.