The nature of being neighborly
By Craig Nash
One of my favorite pastimes as a Wacoan is talking about Waco. Of the small handful of places I have lived in my life, none have been as self-reflective as this community. This has been the case at least since I moved here in the summer of 2000, and has reached new levels of intensity over the past few years as cameras have been rolling and downtown booming. In those early days all our talking was about potential. “If only” type conversations. We still talk about potential a lot, but enough “If onlys” have occurred that we have allowed those conversations to happen less frequently.
But as much as I love talking about and reflecting on the life of this city, I enjoy more the times spent on my block full of individuals and families who aren’t expending a lot of energy thinking and talking about Waco, its potential, past or current status. I live in Sanger Heights, but within seven blocks of my house are the Brook Oaks, North Waco, Dean Highland, Brookview and Heart of Texas Neighborhoods. It’s the nexus of the Waco solar system, really, and it contains multitudes. As far as I can tell, no one on my block are close friends with anyone else on the block. We don’t have neighborhood parties or borrow sugar and eggs from each other. But we are neighborly.
For the first 2-3 years I lived in my current house, there was a lot of transition on the block and, perhaps connected, a lot of crime. My immediate neighbors to the north had lawn mowers and air units stolen. There were gunshots regularly. I had 7 break-ins within a three year span. I can’t be sure if they stopped because I finally got a home alarm system or word just got around that I owned nothing of value, but overall it has become a quiet, peaceful neighborhood.
I’ve seen kids grow up in the neighborhood. Luis, who was eight when I first moved in, is now a senior at Waco High. I once bought him a new soccer ball because my dog destroyed one he accidently kicked into my back yard. Ever since, he has rolled my trash bin back to the house from the curb in the evening about once a month. I’m not saying this is a deliberate long-term exchange of kindness on his part, but I like to think it is. Every time I am seen doing work on the exterior of my house, (which, as anyone who has seen my house knows, isn’t that often,) Luis’ dad, Miguel, asks me if I am moving. He is always relieved when I tell him I have no plans to move anytime soon. In his broken English he tells me how much he likes the current stability of the neighborhood. He doesn’t use those words, of course, but just says, “I’m afraid of new people moving in all the time.”
There is a new family in the neighborhood, though, that has changed things for us. Jayden acts and talks like an 11 year old, because he is 11 years old, but looks like a 15 or 16 year old. He’s brightened the place up. He knocks on every door in the block asking if any of us have work for him, but really he just likes to talk. When he first arrived he offered to mow my yard for $2. Still under the impression that he was older than what he is, I obliged, and SHOCKED him when I told him I’d pay him THREE TIMES what he was offering. When I looked out and saw that he didn’t really know what he was doing, (mowing in squiggly lines and circles,) I asked if he’d ever mowed a yard before. He said, “Yeah, I just mowed YOUR yard.” Containing my laughter I asked and discovered his real age. Not only did I get a cheap lawn service that day, I also got an opportunity to teach an 11 year old how to mow a lawn, as my dad had taught me when I was a kid.
I should mention that I am the only white person on my block. It’s not the first “majority minority” neighborhood I’ve ever lived in, but it is the first time where the disparity has been so prominent. I think this has given me a small sliver of understanding of how people of color have to exist in the “white people” world every minute of every day. It has made me more understanding, but mostly I enjoy the birthday parties where I am awakened from my slumber to look out the window to see a real-live mariachi band. Like the hip-hop music occasionally blaring from the speakers of my other neighbors, I don’t complain, and no one has ever called the cops on me for listening to the Grand Ole Opry too loud on Saturday nights.
We’ve all come to a silent understanding that we are neighbors. We’ll look out for each other if we need to. We’ll avert our eyes from time to time when we need to. But mostly, we will create a community simply by existing peacefully with each other in the same place. This is our Waco, the one we love, and we’re ok not talking about it with each other.
Craig Nash has lived in Waco since 2000. Since then he has worked at Baylor, been a seminary student, managed a hotel restaurant, been the “Barnes and Noble guy,” pastored a church and once again works for Baylor through the Texas Hunger Initiative. He lives with his dog Jane, religiously re-watches the same 4 series on Netflix over and over again, and considers himself an amateur country music historian.
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