Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village and its Surroundings

Our Georgia home is in a village that seems to be both hidden and secret. On a hill, visible from my living room window, is the best supermarket in the Atlanta area. Especially on weekends, when the staff parks on our neighborhood streets, hundreds of people visit the market, yet when I tell people where I live, most have never heard of Scottdale at all, let alone the Scottdale Mill Village. Many have been to our market and even those who shop their regularly have no idea, until I tell them, that down the hill from the market is a secret historic neighborhood.

(Maybe I should stop giving away the secret!)

The neighborhood was once a company town for a cotton mill that existed from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1980's, if the information I've been given is correct. When I looked up the public record for our house, it said that the house was built in 1915, the same year as the mansion in which our Portland apartment was located. I mentioned this to a neighbor who told me no, 1915 is just when the houses got entered into the tax records, but they are much older. I think she said some were built in the 1890's! but I could be wrong. In any case, our house is about a hundred years old. The owner of the mill built the homes for employees and their families. Ours was a "three-room" house, and if you don't count the bathroom, it is three rooms--a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. The three-room house, my neighbor told me, was for a family of four.

Many of our neighbors were born in one of the houses in the neighborhood, although they live in different houses now. These are the neighbors who are able to tell us stories and history.

Between our neighborhood and the market is a barrier of forest. The forest was much larger until a few months ago, when seemingly overnight, it was cut down to make way for an expansion of the market. Opinion on this issue throughout the village is varied and in some cases, passionate. I am just glad that the little forest barrier we have still exists, and I hope it stays. It makes my daily walks varied and interesting. There are always new birds and flowers to see.

Besides a collection of historic homes, trees and birds, and an amazing place to buy food, our neighborhood has some less idyllic surroundings.

Our neighborhood sits between the market and a busy street, one of the main roads of the Atlanta/Decatur area. The road bends, forming a semi-circle (sort of), and our neighborhood sits in that sort-of-semi-circle. The hill keeps out most highway noise. However, very, very close, just on the other side of that main road, are train tracks, so occasionally, a train will come by with its loud, blaring horn. Near the train tracks is the steel mill, from which the smell of varnish occasionally drifts into the neighborhood, but usually, it causes no disturbance other than some strange noises. Late at night, the high-pitched mechanical noises sound like something from a science-fiction movie. HM can't hear as high of pitches or as distant of sounds as I can, and so until I met someone else who'd heard them, I questioned my sanity.

Driving to our neighborhood from the Emory area or from downtown Decatur, an industrial area is all there is to see, making the existence of a quaint neighborhood seem even more unlikely. If one were to leave downtown Decatur, for example, and head in our direction, the sights would include a lot of car repair places with old cars out front, a huge strip club, some large lots shielded by chain-link fences, some secondhand stores, more car-related businesses, some property owned by MARTA, a bus depot, and finally, the market.

On our first day in the neighborhood, HM and I went for a few walks to explore and to buy food. Most of our belongings, including cookware, were still on a moving truck, so we didn't have much to do besides walk around; this was partly also because we needed to find something to eat. In one direction we walked, with no sidewalks and mostly dirt paths very close to the road, to Kroger and to the Last Chance Thrift Store. (I think this might have been the day I found a suit there for $18!) In the other direction, we walked up the hill, most likely with a plan to go to the market. We saw a sign that piqued our interest, however. It said Scottdale Bakery Outlet. I don't think we noticed that in the lot behind the building were large Egyptian-style statues, unceremoniously stored next to some unglamorous trailers. We turned toward the small strip mall where we hoped to find a bakery outlet. In my experience growing up, a bakery outlet was a store that had stuff that food companies for some reason didn't want to or couldn't sell at regular grocery stores and the outlets would sell them for really cheap. When I was a kid, I'd get brownies and blondies and discontinued Celestial Seasonings tea at an Arnold Bakery Outlet.

We may not have noticed the Egyptian statues in the back, but as we approached the store, we noticed the Egyptian statues decorating the front of it. "Maybe it's an Egyptian bakery outlet! Maybe they'll have pita!!!!!!" I exclaimed happily.

But as we continued, the storefront facing us looked nothing like a bakery. I'm writing this from a memory that could be inaccurate, and I won't be going back to confirm these details for reasons I'll explain further down. Behind the big glass window was a velvet curtain, I think dark red or dark purple, and a paper-and-Sharpie'd sign about a bookstore, or something. The building looked closed. We may have even tried the door, so determined to find discounted pita. It was locked. As we later learned, despite the misleading bakery sign, it is actually a religious building, a meeting place or a temple or something for the Nuwaupians.

The neighborhood suits us perfectly. It is secluded, not isolated, but downtown and the law school are easily accessible. We have the benefits of being near a city, but we have a large yard that we are converting into a microfarm. Everyone is friendly, yet everyone also seems to maintain a healthy level of privacy; everyone waves at whomever they see (even contractors and strangers) on the street, but unlike in other places I've lived, no one's ever looking in or knocking on my window. The neighborhood has many impressive gardens, but the attitude is tolerant of works-in-progress, bug-eaten or weedy chaos, and gardens decorated with yard art that is made out of garbage. For example, when we tore up much of the lawn to put in raised beds with vegetables, everyone had kind things to say. No one has commented on the in-progress patches that I'm working on, and before my perennials and sunflowers started to get established, it was either bare dirt or sale papers I could barely keep covered by mulch. In progress is a post about our garden. Or probably a series of posts. I have been documenting it with pictures pretty regularly. I've also been documenting the forest barrier and how it's been changing. When I started my walks in the winter, I took a lot of pictures of sunsets. After awhile, I started capturing the land, as it was being cleared, and sometimes the construction equipment in the pictures. So now I have a purpose, to target the market expansion as it happens, especially at sunset, from the point of view of the village.

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