Nostalgia: The alleys of my childhood

I was reading this General Questions thread about alleys, and it got me to reminiscing about the alleys in the neighborhood where I grew up, a small town in a rural county, in a mostly rural Southern state.

Our house was built in the early 1940s, as was the entire neighborhood, I would assume. The blocks were fairly short, about 10 houses long. Bisecting the block from both directions were alleys, which, for the most part, ran the entire length. (Some streets didn’t have them go all the way through for some reason.) I lived on Ninth Street, on the corner. A few houses down in either direction was the alley, and as kids they were our pathways.

We knew the alleys like the backs of our hands; we knew our neighbors backyards, we played in their gardens, climbed their trees. “Cutting through the alley” was repeated daily. It’s how we got around.

I miss alleys. Somehow, they seemed to connect us to our neighbors more fully.

When I grew up, I lived in a different small town, and it too is bisected by alleys in the older part of town where I, of course, lived. Maybe of these alleys are paved, so used are they, and necessary, it seems, to daily life.

Now I live in a new house and there’s a gorgeous green space beyond my back yard, which gives my kids a great, though different, place to play. But to my nostalgic mind, it’s just not the same as those public, yet secret alleyways where my feet traveled in childhood, on the way to great hide-and-go-seek hiding places, created-then-abandoned secret clubs, to a friends house.

I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the place in the middle of our block where the alleys intersected, and visualize the garden that was always planted nearby. Over there in the pine tree we always climbed and beyond, the wide world, where I eventually took all my daydreams.

We have an alley behind our house which we use to access our parking. Ours is pretty nice in that there are street lights and it is wide enough for two cars to pass on either side. I like that I can come and go without anyone seeing me from the front door.

I like that there is less traffic to maneuver around when I am getting to my parking spot. Strangely enough, I run into more of my neighbors in the alley than I do on the main street.

There weren’t too many alleys in my neighborhood when I grew up but as an adult, I enjoy walking down them whenever I can. They seem somehow more peaceful than regular streets and you get a better idea of who lives in that house or who owns that small store than from the front.

In Jamestown NY they actually have alleys named and signed, which really surprised me, I thought they were usually anonymous. But that’s not really my childhood, it’s just something I remarked on during my childhood, since Jamestown was The City to me living on a farm outside Fredonia. (And Buffalo was The Big City.)

I do miss freeform climbable art, though: Jamestown for awhile had more than one artistically sculptured sidewalk place that kids were allowed to climb on. They had them at Chautauqua Institute as well.

But the two things I miss more about Chautauqua are no longer there: The Bomber House (a classic Northern sammich shop that made the best cheesesteak ever and whose tiny confines always emitted that sweet smell of cooked onions,) and Stockton Gala Days (a fireman’s “carnival” [light on the rides though] set in the valley of Stockton whose idyllicness is alluded to in the only tangentially related 10,000 Maniacs song of the same name.)

I love alleys too. One of my favorite things about the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird was the alleys and backyards that the kids treated as their own property. Just like we did when I was growing up.

We spent a lot of time in alleys – sneaking beer and smoking cigarettes, just hanging out, unseen. I could be in an alley in my little midwest town and imagine that I was in 1930’s Brooklyn or someplace equally exotic to an Iowan. :slight_smile:

I still drive and walk down alleys. Back yards are where the living happens. The front is for show, nothing ever goes on there.

Didn’t get to finish my thought. I enjoy back alleys, too, because you never know what you may find. There’s an air of discovery when I walk through an alley that I don’t get on a regualr street. Most of the time nothing interesting turns up but, for me, all it takes is an unusual flower or a friendly dog to make it worthwhile. One time I discovered a small pond in a back yard replete with a mama duck and her brood and some little frogs peeping away. Just thinking about it makes me smile.

What lovely stories and memories! Just like mine!

Ludovic, I don’t know what happened to my post! Yesterday I said I had family that hailed from up your way: Jamestown, Little Valley, Falconer and Olean, NY. When my mother’s family immigrated, they settled in Falconer, where three brothers married three sisters. We’ve been looking up their arrival in Ellis Island records recently; it’s very interesting. :cool: