Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Thanks for the Memories

A friend got me thinking about gratitude.

I could tell as we drove to eat that he was down and that a lot of stressful stuff had been going on in his life since we'd last gone out. Bit by bit, he shared as he drove and I listened.

By the time we arrived at the restaurant, he was looking for a reaction from me. I told him that the good news was that all these seemingly negative things were nothing more than a clear indicator that his life was going in new directions.

Yes, I've been called Pollyanna on occasion.

He didn't respond immediately, but later, over our second course, he looked at me and said, "I just need to remember to have gratitude." I agreed.

Then he launched into a story about a woman he frequently sees standing on a corner near his house in Carver staring at the sky, her middle finger extended upward. Is she flipping off passers-by? Examining her digit? Crazy as a loon?

"If nothing else, I need to be grateful I'm not her," he said and that led to a discussion of all the things he has gratitude for, including my friendship.

A former boyfriend used to frequently comment on my equilibrium, once asking if I looked in the mirror every day and said affirming things to myself. Can't say that I do.

But I do have gratitude for whatever life I'm living at any given time. This week, I'm oozing gratitude for no longer being in the grip of food poisoning and its lingering (and challenging) aftereffects. Spring's arrival means I'm also grateful that I no longer need to pay for heat or wear a sweater all day.

By the time we left the restaurant, I could tell his mood had improved significantly and not just because we'd eaten ourselves into a stupor.

He was headed out to Blacksburg for work tonight while my destination was going to be the Valentine Museum for this month's Community Conversation.

After parking my car, I headed to the kiosk to buy some parking time when I heard a voice across the street calling out, "Miss! Miss in the green skirt!"

The Valentine parking attendant across the street was telling me not to bother paying for parking since restrictions ended in ten minutes. Unsure about risking a ticket, I paused. What if the traffic gestapo was just evil enough to show up in the waning minutes and leave me a citation?

"I'll throw myself across your car and stop them." Good enough.

Inside was a smaller crowd than usual for tonight's discussion of Carver, a neighborhood that interests me because it's adjacent to Jackson Ward. What I love about these events is not only seeing old photos from the Valentine's collection, but hearing from locals and experts about the 'hood.

For instance, Carver was called Sheep Hill for over a century. Only in 1948 when they built Carver School did they change the name. And, while the former name sounds sylvan, it's actually a nod to the sheep that were herded along Leigh Street to a nearby Brook Road slaughterhouse.

Not nearly as bucolic, eh?

Unlike my beloved J-Ward which was always a mix of business and residential, Carver always had industry in the mix with furniture factories and shopping cart makers.

Because I walk through Carver so often on my daily march or even to the grocery store, it's an area I know well, alleys, side streets and all, so seeing images of it 70 or 100 years ago was eye-opening.

Some of the most fascinating photos we saw were of the extension of Belvidere Street over I-95. That construction apparently took out a police station at Belvidere and Marshall as well as a local bakery. The Home Brewing building was where Richbrau beer was originally brewed. Who knew?

The odd little houses I'd seen on Catherine Street turned out to be prototype "Carver Houses," small-scale dwellings designed to get people out of dilapidated 19th century shacks and into something "modern."

As always happens with these events, part of the time is devoted to determining the demographic in the room so we use small devices to answer questions about age, sex and domicile. Tonight, one of the questions was about how we felt about Duke winning.

I was part of the 33% who responded with, "What did they win?"

When we broke into small groups to discuss our memories and vision for Carver, I was fortunate enough to wind up with a 27-year resident, an 8-month resident two years out of VCU and the woman who does the Carver walking tour for the Valentine.

It wound up being a discussion of Carver's evolution with so many VCU students now living there. I mentioned having seen drunk kids on many a weekend night there, a fact which appalled the Museum District resident in our group.

He couldn't understand how underage kids had access to alcohol but the recent graduate explained just how easy that was accomplished. "Well, it doesn't sound like Carver is anyplace I want to go if there are drunk kids walking the streets at night," he sputtered. Okay, so don't go.

A longtime Carver resident looked at him and asked rhetorically, "Didn't you get drunk when you were a student?" and Mr. Indignant said an emphatic "no!"

Some of the most enlightening information came via the researcher who explained that Carver's population had more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 1000 residents to 2100.

Most interesting about that was that although the perception is that it's whites who've replaced blacks, in truth both the black and white population have grown as well as the Asian and Hispanic. So it's just more diverse in general.

Tonight's speaker was a 24-year Carver resident and city planner who took us through the evolution of the neighborhood as he'd experienced it.

In the '90s, he said it was "sort of okay" during the day and "dodgy" at night. Lots of drug dealing and prostitution.

He recalled hearing the new bells at Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and going outside for a better listen. There he spotted some bills on the ground and came up with $440. He checked and it didn't belong to his neighbors, so while he wasn't comfortable spending someone else's money, he put it in the bank and spent his other money. True story.

I'd always wondered why there were two power stations in Carver, one right on Clay next to houses and another by the school. He said nobody objected to putting them in black neighborhoods back then.

"On the other hand, we never lose power in Carver," he quipped.

We heard about how at one time VCU was considering putting the school of social work at Belvidere and Broad but then-president Trani thought it was too remote to make students go that far. Hell, now it's student housing.

Another juicy tidbit was that a VCU/Carver partnership had been formed and the school had promised not to expand north of Marshall without the invitation of Carver's group. Of course that didn't stop private development geared at students north of Marshall.

I couldn't have been more surprised that Carver had approved that basketball training facility they're now constructing on Marshall.

But for every sad tale, he had a good one. "The Lowe's replaced the saddest A & P in America," he recalled. I never saw the A & P, but everyone in the city uses that Lowe's.

He concluded by saying that there was nowhere else in the city he'd want to live, a sentiment I can relate to since I can't imagine living anywhere but Jackson Ward. That's part of that gratitude thing, finding where you belong and being okay with it.

Because no matter where that might be, sometimes you just need to realize that in the grand scheme of things, at least you're not that person on the corner giving the finger to the world.

Or if you are, be grateful it makes you happy.


  1. I lived in Jackson Ward, [21 West Clay], from '98-2002. Naturally I spent some time in Carver also. Interesting area. Houses seemed a bit nicer in the Ward than Carver. We had some colourful neighbors. Drugs, hookers, & an occasional gun shot. My family was horrfied that I would live there. It's changed some ..what hasn't? I never felt threatened --- However I wouldn't say it's any better or worse than any other place. It's whatever one likes, prefers. Not sure if Realtors would agree with that. May not be a good place to raise kids-- the schools are probably ill funded, run-down. That's what parents probably care about most ..their children. That's why whites who are adult & have families are not that interested in Richmond Public schools. Urban living is fine for singles but most folks still grow up & get married. Henceforth --time to leave Richmond. Naturally one can be single & not have children. However Richmond core neighborhood still have a problem -- it's schools.


  2. Yep, definitely better architecture in J-Ward than Carver for the most part. I've only been here since 2006 and it's even changed in those nine years. Way more students, for one.

    Like you, cw, I've never felt threatened living here, no matter how late I come home and we both know that can be pretty late sometimes. There always seems to be people out and up late around here. Early I wouldn't know about!