Since starting Birmingham Raw in November, I’ve told several stories of growing up in Birmingham’s Crestwood and Woodlawn areas, and there will be more in the future (along with all kinds of stories about Birmingham’s past and present). As much as I enjoy remembering the past, I am energized even more by looking to the future, and I’ve been excited during the past year to get to know some of the leaders who are living in Crestwood now and working to bring a new vitality to the area.
I recently started toying with the idea of getting the folks from my generation together with the wonderfully diverse group of individuals who are now building the area’s future.
The response has been positive and enthusiastic, and nobody has asked why we should do this.
If they did, my answer would be that I have no earthly idea. I can’t really see how we could help the current generation, and we might well just be in the way.
An easy answer would be that they could learn from us, but learn what? We didn’t build the community in which we grew up. We inherited it from our parents, many of whom poured endless hours of work into it. They taught in our schools. Built homes. Ran stores. Stayed up all night cooking pork shoulders in Crestwood Park. Organized PTA carnivals. Taught in our schools. Fixed our teeth. Paid for our churches.
We – by which I mean those of us who were born after World War II – took and took, but most of us gave back precious little. It isn’t that we’re morally defective. It’s just the nature of the time in which we lived. The table was set for us. We feasted, and we went off to college and fell in love and settled into other places where we found jobs, affordable homes and good schools. Crestwood declined, while we took the memories and the lessons and put them to use in raising the next generation, most of whom have no connection to Crestwood.
There’s no fault in this. It’s just rhythm of things, and we were under no obligation to do anything more.
Until now, it was the nature for folks of my generation to look ahead. It was the only responsible thing to do, as most of our lives were in front of us. Now, we have empty nests, and there’s more life behind us than ahead. It’s only natural to glance backward. While some of our generation have passed, most of us still have a lot of good years left. Remembering where we came from can help us reinforce the lessons we learned growing up. If we’re honest with ourselves, it can also enable us to more clearly see the mistakes our parents made. Maybe we’ll even find something worth sharing with our grandchildren.
During the past few decades, many of us have created our own legacy. We’ve built our own schools and churches and parks and homes in our own communities, far from the home of our youth. We’ve learned things, and forgotten others. We outgrew Crestwood. Or so I thought.
So what is it that so many of us find pulling us back together? Why do we gather on Facebook pages, and in regular gatherings? I guess it could be simple nostalgia. But unless it’s just my imagination, there is something about the very ground of Crestwood that binds us. My wife, who lived there only a year (when we bought a “fixer upper” and moved a year later), feels it too, even though she grew up in Roebuck.
I draw encouragement from the new generation of people who are building it again, much as our parents did. They’re running businesses and agitating for positive change. Unlike our parents, who were all white and nearly all Baptist or Methodist, the people leading the way come from all sorts of backgrounds. Every conceivable race, lifestyle and religion (or lack thereof). Our parents would have strongly disapproved of many of them.
But that’s OK. That was them, then. This is us, now.
If nothing else, I want to know these remarkable people better. I am grateful to my parents’ generation for the community they created, and to the new generation for what they’re doing. I’m not under the impression that we have anything to teach them. I just know that nothing good happens until people connect, and talk, and know each other.
So my answer is, why not?
For any friends who grew up in Crestwood, or who live there now, who’d like to be a part of this (whatever it turns out to be), please leave a comment so we’ll know where to find you.