Monday, November 27, 2006

Leaving Central Las Vegas

Last week a new family moved into my late aunt’s old house. Until October, my mom had been living there. My mom’s been in that downtown neighborhood for over forty years – the house I grew up in is only two blocks away. It took us a month to get her completely moved. She’s still got stuff in boxes.

The last remnants of the Las Vegas I remember from my childhood are disappearing fast. The synagogue moved away and the Methodist church just fixed its broken stained glass window. My old elementary school, Crestwood, is one of the Clark County schools turned over to Edison because of its at-risk status. The streets look like they belong in some other city, some other downtown turned bad. Front yards are used for extra parking. Buildings are boarded up. The signs are all in Spanish. The bank is now a pawn shop, and the shoe repair is a pay day loan place. Still, it’s where I grew up. Some houses, like my aunt’s, remain as solitary testaments to the beautiful neighborhood it once was, full of well-maintained homes and friendly neighbors.

When I grew up there, it was a working class neighborhood. My dad was a bartender, my mother a bookkeeper; my uncle was a machinist and my aunt a secretary. Our street was considered a great location because it was just a few miles from Fremont Street and the Strip, where many people worked. On my street, an Italian upholsterer lived next door. Sometimes his wife made jelly for us from the figs we gave her from our enormous fig tree. The piano player for the Mills Brothers lived across the street. We used to have pool parties at his house. I cleaned house for the lady directly across the street from us. Her daughter had died from brain cancer. We were a small town in those days, and the neighborhood reflected that. I knew that bad behavior on my part would result in direct notification to my parents. When I decided to steal my dad’s tip money and buy a round of goodies for the neighborhood kids from the ice cream truck, the upholsterer’s granddaughter made a beeline to my front door. She was eating her ice cream as she tattled on me. I got double restriction for using the f-word.

Nowadays I know most of my neighbors, some quite well, but the flavor of my street is far more…. Uppity. I live just outside Summerlin, the land of Lexus and Williams Sonoma. My husband and I bought here because we liked the greenery of the area. We were surprised to find our neighbors included an Iranian dentist, an engineer for Boeing, a French wine salesman, a Palestinian professional poker player, and a host of other well-heeled people. We’re governed by a home owner’s association, which is a formalized group of nosy, nit-picking busy bodies who need to get a life. I can’t believe we actually pay to have people nag us about the state of our lawn and the oil spots in our driveway. At any rate, no one is having any pool parties around here, and I’m pretty sure ice cream trucks are prohibited.

The last ice cream truck I saw was at my aunt’s house. I offered to flag it down for my son, who is eight, about the same age I was when the infamous tip theft occurred. He declined – he’s never visited the ice cream truck. He’d rather go to Starbucks. He’s glad that Nana will be living closer to us, but says he will miss the old house. I remember lazy afternoons when he was baby, sitting in the living room with my mom and my aunt as he crawled in the floor. Now he’s helping me pack boxes.

Time marches on, taking all vestiges of Old Las Vegas with it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Living History

October 31, 1864, wasn’t a day for trick-or-treaters. On that day in history, our country was coming to the end of the bitterly fought war between the states – a war that claimed more American lives than any other war in our history. Nevada was admitted to union on that date; the Union needed her silver. Thus, our state motto: Battle Born.

Over Nevada Day 2006 weekend, Civil War re-enactors invaded Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. The South still lost, and at the end of the day all the soldiers got to go home (which is how we wish all conflicts ended). This was the first Civil War reenactment in Las Vegas, and Spring Mountain was the perfect place for this living history lesson. It’s one of the few places where our history is preserved and valued.

I noticed students everywhere, taking notes, asking questions, and even interviewing Abe Lincoln. My own son, who had described history as “mostly boring,” was enraptured by the battle and field hospital demonstration.

History buffs who missed the re-enactment will want to head out to the park November 10 through 12, when the park hosts the Mountain Man Rendezvous. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to fire a black powder gun or what on earth you do with an atlatl, now is your chance. Call 875-4141 for more details.