On a rainy July day this past summer, my school-age daughters emerged from their playroom as proud publishers. They had just created “The Garthwick News,” a neighborhood paper filled with 6 pages of “breaking news.” It detailed events radiating from the epicenter of our backyard all the way to the edge of Garthwick. For my kids, our neighborhood of 3 streets and 84 homes on the south side of Sellwood is a closely-observed and magical universe.
By the 3rd edition, the boy next door had been recruited as contributing journalist and cartoonist. He too understood the immediacy and import of their mission. My daughters copied and folded their paper, stuffed them in a grocery sack, and ventured to the far corners of their known world, delivering the news to every home in Garthwick.
They returned with stories of barking dogs, interesting mail slots, and new neighbors they met along the way. Kids we didn’t know yet and some we did knocked on the door with invites to ride bikes and swim. Long-time residents wrote thank you notes and shared their own adventures of growing up.
The Garthwick News summoned the feelings many of us experience as children, when the few neighboring blocks surrounding our home give us our first-hand knowledge of the world, firing our imaginations.
My daughters’ paper awoke in me the sense of enchantment I remember when I spent time at my grandparent’s home in Brookford, a mid-century neighborhood in SW Portland, similar in size to Garthwick. This was also the home where my father grew up.
When I asked my dad about it, his memories of Brookford came back in a vivid stream of consciousness with many details not so different from the kind of events my daughters write about now:
"There was upper Brookford around 35th and Admiral (the killer skateboard hill where boarding originated in Oregon. Yes, your father was like the Wright Brother of skateboarding).
Dalton Hobbs and I built and sold skateboards—a metal-wheel roller skate from Goodwill, wheels split front and back, then nailed to the bottom of a two-by-four. Lower Brookford was on 39th where Todd Noack lived. Upper Brookford had the Garden Club. Nancy Wildfong’s mother took us caroling at Christmas."
"We walked to Bridlemile and met up with the lower Brookford people on the way. Pete Sheperd was 3 or 4 years older than me and lived in the cul de sac on the end of 35th. I remember him turning 18 and trying to decide between an awesome 15 speed bike or a beater car. He decided to join the Marines instead and was sent to Viet Nam. He was the first young dead person I knew.
We listened to KISN AM on our transistor radios and because of this, wisely chose to make Herman’s Hermits our first concert as opposed to The Beatles or Elvis. I remember listening to KINK radio (it was FM and that was something most radios couldn’t get). KINK had the weirdest sounding thing—a woman DJ. Hearing a woman’s voice was just about incomprehensible. What next, women newscasters on TV?
Brookford from 1962 to 1970. Pinecone and dirt clod wars at the end of the street in the woods (now Albert Kelly park). Kick the Can after dark. Packy the elephant was born (not in Brookford).”
My own memories from 1979-84 are crystal clear and completely different, even though centered around the same family, home, and neighborhood. I recently wrote to a friend:
"I remember grandma had a patterned carpet in her kitchen with a knick-knack shelf separating the kitchen from the living room, where grandpa kept bowls of peanuts and lemonheads. The bowls were blue, red, and yellow, with Asian characters. They were hand-painted wood and the black tops looked like round Asian-style hats.
The driveway was a wonder of navigation to me--the stairs went up the middle of the drive and I was impressed by what good drivers my grandparents had to be to keep the wheels of the car on the outside tracks. It seemed very steep and I marveled that someone would think that up."
"Albert Kelly Park felt like the Enchanted Forest, it was huge. I loved the little bridges that crossed the creeks—it was a wilderness of running streams, trees and plants. I was amazed at the size because it felt small when just passing by, driving up Dosch. But when we came down into Brookford, the park seemed hidden, all the way at the bottom.
My grandma sewed all my clothes and she loved making me wrap dresses. Her sewing room was at the end of the hallway. She kept all the measurements of our family on a piece of thick cardboard. Reading those names I knew just who she loved, my place in her world, and it's importance. I knew that was why she made things for us. I remember she would say my cousin Diana was a perfect size 10. I'd read Diana's name on the card with the size 10 next to it and be a little jealous and full of admiration. I still think of all our names in her cursive writing with her measurements and the eraser marks, smudges and additions she made with her pencil and feel completely loved.”
My father and I are lucky. When we go back to Brookford we find the place transformed, different from what we remember, but still a lovely, thriving neighborhood.
As neighbors move in and out over the years they re-invest in their homes, adapting them at great expense to the way we live now. While most of our physical possessions depreciate, with maintenance and time our homes gain value as our neighborhoods tend to mature and become more distinctive.
But as we’ve taken a closer look at Brookford in this issue of the magazine, I’m reminded of the value of our childhood adventures, the memories of place and belonging. Just as our neighborhoods are updated with time, the generations of children who live in them are busy investing and re-imagining those spaces in their own way. Ultimately, it seems they are the ones who remember our neighborhoods best.
Even today, it only takes a few blocks to form the vast territory of childhood. It’s the world where “all the news that’s fit to print”—the everyday, thrilling events we’ll never forget—are all taking place.
Jenelle Isaacson, founder, Living Room Realty
Davia Larson, contributing writer