I deeply love this old neighborhood — the one I call home — the one most call more formally by first and last name: Mesta Park.
While it’s never easy to describe why, I always begin by pointing out its central location, how it’s within easy walking distance of downtown. And how by car, with nearby access to two major highway arteries, I can get anywhere in the city in 20 minutes or less. (After years of driving Houston
expressways highways, I count this no small miracle.)
I like how whether I head north or south, it’s close to fine dining and local art and entertainment districts. How residents need walk only a few blocks to grab a good cup of coffee. Or something to eat from the many local cafes and bakeries that dot its crisp rectangular edges. There’s a quaint charm afoot, when the neighborhood’s one small grocer and several churches sprinkled here and there allow most to cover daily needs of nourishment with only their “Chevrolegs.”
Life in Mesta Park is definitely slower — more so than other parts of the city, even those a mere three miles up the road by Penn Square Mall. Residents excuse people for thinking otherwise, nestled as it is, against shadows of skyscrapers. But more than slow, the neighborhood pulse is also steady — as a historic district, one can rest assured that the house next door will not schedule a date with a wrecking crew any time soon.
When traveling over Thirteenth Street — the historic district’s invisible drawn lower boundary — it helps to regard the crossing as time travel. It matters not whether carried by memory or imagination — one will arrive securely embraced by small town Americana — early twentieth century. It’s a place where endless old shade trees line the curbs to attend the parade of neighborhood life. It’s a place where patriotic banners proudly hang from beams of front porches — still well used. And summer ice cream socials still gather neighbors in the park. Where one finds residents – both two and four-legged – barking out friendly greetings as they pass on the sidewalk; voices of children chirping as they ride bikes to the park or sit behind their lemonade stands, waiting for thirsty customers they know will stop.
Living here schools me in patience. The neighborhood is home to many different stages of life and the houses and gardens do a good job of telling who lives where. Immaculate lawns and gardens spell retiree or the absentee rich with hired help or perhaps a passionate gardener. And while the neighborhood has more than its share of finely manicured lawns, most land somewhere near the “good enough” category. It’s easy to imagine owners of these places spread too thin — trying hard to cover all the bases but running out of steam somewhere between third and home plate.
Then there are those other yards practically begging for an explanation. You know the ones — talked about behind their backs rather than lent a helping hand. Sometimes, when seen kneeling in the dirt of my own gardens, a passer-by will strike up casual conversation. A few sentences in, they’ll pose their question, punctuated with a finger-point or nod of their head, “What’s the story on that corner house over there?” And playing the part of mother to child, I’ll tell them what they already know but for some reason only God knows, like also to hear from me; something along the lines of how these neighbors of ours will get around to “it” sooner or later; and if too late of later, when reported to the City for having foot-high weeds.
Soon, it will be me passing through this old neighborhood on my way to a new-old home uptown from here. And though I won’t stop to ask questions, I hope to always stop — at least mentally — to recall how lucky I once was to call this place home. This old neighborhood and I go way back — every since it captured my childish heart while gazing out the window from the back seat of my parent’s mid-fifties Chevrolet.
Neither time nor space can change that. It never has. And I suppose it never will.