29 05 2009

(No, not that way!)

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in a family that always had minimal cash flow, and never had more than $1000 in the bank. My mom and dad owned a series of classic “ma and pa”  stores. (You know, the old precursors to 7-11 where the people who served you were the actual owners of the store?) Our living quarters were usually attached to the store. Both store and living area were usually poorly made. In fact, two of the places where we lived and worked had been constructed personally by the original owners — classic jackleg carpenters, I presume, judging from the strange floor plans and crazy walls. Needless to say, none of those places were pretty.

Jump ahead about 30 years.

It was 1997 and I had just turned 50 and actually had a bit of money in hand due to having practiced law for a while in a small way.  I was not married and didn’t expect to be, and it came to me that, to provide for my future, the best way to use my limited fund of capital, while I had it, was to find a way to live in it for life! So I went looking for a small house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I’ve lived since 1981.

I looked at some real dumps! Then one day I saw in the real estate section of the newspaper a dark little picture of a modest gingerbread-fronted house in downtown Baton Rouge. For other reasons too detailed to go into here, I had earlier studied downtown and come to love it, so I bought the house and fixed it up. It’s something you find a lot of in South Louisiana — a “shotgun house”. I.e., all the rooms are in a row, so if you stood in the front door you could fire a shotgun from the front of the house all the way to the back without hitting an intervening wall.  Such houses were where poor people often ended up. Nevertheless, this particular house was well-made and had a charm for me that even now I can’t define. As I later learned, it had been built in 1927.

I still live in that house 12 years later. My house is  tiny, only about 675 square feet. It’s a one-person house! I still love it as much as I ever did, and I still don’t know why.

Despite being rather cramped, it is my opinion that I have ended up in a very nice situation indeed. Essentially, I live in a unique downtown neighborhood that has the look of a traditional tree-canopied small southern town. The streets are narrow and have so little traffic that even the littleist neighborhood kids routinely ride their bikes  in the middle of them. The houses are clapboard, pier-and-beam construction — not a ranch-style house in the bunch! Instead there are lots of bungalows, and other wooden house styles* that you would instantly recognize if you saw them. Most are standard Southern styles from before 1950, so familiar from my early childhood that they are  like the faces of old friends to me. The neighborhood even has a name — Beauregard Town*. It was originally laid out back in the 1806, for goodness sake! Mine is the only shotgun house in it.

This pretty, small Southern town is in turn situated in the center of what I consider to be a howling wilderness of standard, traffic-ridden American urban sprawl. The Baton Rouge metropolitan area has a population of over 700,000. Yet this little town-within-a-city I inhabit is not much bigger than tiny Overton, Texas, where I was born and spent my early childhood.

This place is so restful, and so insulated from the surrounding car-dominated city, that it makes my lifelong dislike of driving bearable. It also, incidentally, makes me happy every morning when the weather’s nice and I sit on my front porch and listen to the birds singing and look out at the neat clapboard houses of my neighbors nestled among the trees.

And sometimes even say “Hi” to my neighbors as they walk by!

Beauregard Town was gentrified in the early 2000s, so all the decaying houses were fixed up, but it was not so gentrified as to drive out all the long-time Black residents, or to bring in snooty people who are actually rich. The houses are just too small for them. It remains a mixed area where the two races get along.

On top of all this, the place where I work is within walking distance!

I love this place. Everyone gets a few really lucky breaks in his life. Finding this house was one of mine.


*See Beauregard Town Wikipedia entry:

And here you can see some photos I took of downtown Baton Rouge: