In honor of being out of town this week talking to good people in Savannah, Georgia about Cincinnati and our work, I’m reposting a Love Letter written to Madisonville from November 2013.
If you haven’t loved on your neighborhood lately, consider writing your own letter and we’ll share it here– just send it to Candice@starfirecouncil.org and we’ll feature it on Cincibility.
Nestled below the tree lined homes of Indian Hill and Kenwood, tucked neatly next to Hyde Park, and Oakley, a secret cousin of Mariemont, Madisonville sits unassuming in its own corner of Cincinnati.
When my husband and I moved here in 2009, we didn’t have any of the fears that those who don’t live here have about Madisonville. We knew it needed local businesses, a fresh coat of paint in many places, we knew some houses were better maintained than others, and we knew we weren’t choosing a trendy neighborhood in which to lay our roots. Friends and family members lived on streets like Bramble, Windward, Roe, friends had grown up on Settle and Plainville close by. We were not deterred by the concerned whispers and raised eyebrows of others that Madisonville was where we would buy our first home.
We, like many of our neighbors, live here by choice and not by circumstance.
It’s the slow getting to know each other process that is the marker of any relationship. My relationship with Madisonville is no different. It takes time to learn that fireworks on Sundays is some neighbor celebrating every Bengal’s touchdown. Obnoxious, yes, but upon further reflection, kind of charming thinking about this person’s obvious love for his city. It takes time to learn that nearby neighbors, with louder than necessary voices, talking about relatives and the weather, and God-knows-what-else, from their porches to each other are less of a nuisance than you first thought, and more of the soundtrack of your street. Nosey, sure, but a certain sense of safety comes over you, knowing someone living a few doors down is that infinitely curious about what’s happening on the block, at all hours of the day.
From our bedroom windows we can hear three sets of church bells. St. Margaret’s long full-length songs blast year round into our home, the school bell now silent. An audible memento of nearly 100 years of local children being educated just a few doors down. Church bells from St. Anthony’s, and from the bell tower in Mariemont, echo through our neighborhood marking the passage of time. On Sunday morning dog walks, we can pass nearly a dozen churches and hear choirs’ joyful songs, and pastors celebrating, lecturing, and blessing their congregation. On Sunday afternoons, we can join others in an impromptu pool table potluck at the Bramble Patch, and witness a beautiful cross section of Madisonville natives lining the barstools. With each Cincinnati score, a buy one get one free drink. Before long, we’re 3 drinks in the hole, winning tshirts and bottle openers from the free raffle while enjoying someone’s green beans and ham, and being sent home with a bag of cherry tomatoes a local gardener just has too many of.
In our corner of Madisonville, Thursday nights mean a rush of bingo traffic and cohorts of women smoking cigarettes, gossiping as smoke and hot air clouds raise into cold the night sky. Summer days and autumn evenings a half-dozen kids ride their bikes up and down driveways, perched on porches like vigilantes with Nerf guns and princess gear, armed with sidewalk chalk and skateboards, and the occasional found cat. When our next door neighbor yells her children’s names, we can point which direction they scattered to. Strewn about bikes and balls and snack wrappers occasionally get left in our yard, and we are okay with the leftovers debris from a day of good play on our block.
Truly loving something is accepting the flaws, overlooking the many imperfections, and being okay with the slow and steady gradual change. An arts center in the planning with a group of steadfast stubborn planners, fighting, dreaming, putting on magnificent events as they can, sparking hope into the neighborhood. Talk of a potential restaurant in the old historic bank building. A vacant post office waiting for use, full of potential. An updated nature trail. A house with a fresh coat of paint, or an updated porch, or an overgrown lot finally mowed: these are seeds of change made visible and slow, but steady growth in the neighborhood.
There’s a tendency to focus on what’s wrong and berate the deficits in any relationship. And it’s fair to say that Madisonville has plenty deficits to count. This isn’t a letter about that. (We have all already read that letter and could each write one ourselves.) We are not our neighbors nearby with expensive upscale boutiques and quaint bistros. Not yet, at least, and maybe that’s not our identity, to be something we’re not, force something that’s not in our blood.
Loving something requires a commitment to move beyond keeping score and being committed to the long-term development, the unfolding of a story that includes both chapters we’d rather not revisit and characters we’d like to write out. And there are many chapters yet to be written, with plenty of storylines still to edit and revise.
Ghost signs are embedded in tile outside of doorways of storefronts on Madison Road, names of previous owners and bygone businesses. Each sign a reminder that not too long ago, Madisonville was a place people wanted to be. And with a wink and nod in the worn down tile, a reminder that Madisonville, steadfast and stubborn, still is.