denise gilkey

How long have you lived in the neighborhood?

My mom moved into this neighborhood when I was 3 so we’ll say 56 years to be safe.

What brought your mom to this neighborhood?

She moved here from Georgia with a friend of hers to start a new life. She didn’t have me till she was thirty so she had her fun for a few years and then she decided to settle down and moved here (grand rapids). Her friend had two boys and my mom had me. We lived together for a while on union. We still have family in Georgia and we’re going back again this summer for a family reunion back at the old house. It’s gonna be so fun! There’ll be about 200 of us. We have so much fun and for the first time in like 20 years we’re going to have it back in the woods where it all started! My mom is the oldest of the family so I want to make sure she gets down there.

What are your best memories from living on this block?

Oh yeah, the kids, growing up everybody played in the neighborhood. All the neighbors looked out for everyone. And you knew everybody. You knew everybody and you knew everybody’s kids, at least in the 400 and 500 block. As kids we had a radius too. We couldn’t just wander around. We had to be on the porch by the time the street light came on. And we did! And everybody followed rules. We could go from Sherman or even Thomas, but that was kind of stretching it. Our boundaries were pleasant and that’s how it was sectioned off for school. If you lived on this side (south) of pleasant, off of union, then you had to go to south school and if you lived on the other side you went to central. So it was like the boundaries were right there for us as kids and we never went past Madison. So that was our little area and that was if we were out and about doing bike riding. During the week our area was this square area like pleasant to Wealthy to College. That little square. There were a lot of kids. There were a few single parent but most of them were families or like one house had the grandparents lived downstairs and the kids lived upstairs and that’s kinda how it went. And it was pretty good. We played and there was no violence. We grew up in a really good time, I really think I did, because we got to play outside and we didn’t hardly ever lock our doors. Everybody looked out for everybody. When you came home from school you knew exactly what to do. You go home, you go in the house, take your school clothes off, do your chores, your homework and about 4:30 then your neighbors see you come out. If you came home, or for instance, I came home and brought a boy home with me? Aw, no! Is you supposed to have that boy in that house? You know your mama ain’t home! ...All the kids got along.

Do you feel like you still know your neighbors like you did when you were a kid?

I know the people in the neighborhood that’s been here... the people that have been here a while. The new people I have no idea. None. I know the people that used to live in every house (on the block) but these new people, I have no idea. All the people that used to live there I know, now, I have no idea. I know the people on these four corners. Now shawn my grandson could tell you. He knows everybody’s name. He’s all up and down the little neighborhood.

It sounds like the best “version” of the neighborhood is what you remember about the neighborhood from when you were a kid. Is that true?

The best time! Because after that a kid we didn’t have social media. We didn’t sit in the house and watch tv or on games. So outside was our way of having a good time. All that time neighbors were looking out for each other. The neighborhood’s always been really really nice. We’ve never had problems. It was diverse. It was a good neighborhood. Some kid came from outside the neighborhood but for the most part the kids that were around were the ones that lived here. The majority of us grew up here together from grade school to high school.

Do you see any organizations or people doing good things in your neighborhood?

No. None at all. I see different associations in the area but I don’t know what they actually do. As far as being up close and personal with the neighbors… no. Not at all. I think especially for some of the older people in the neighborhood I think they need to be recognized so that if something happened, then they know, like, say for instance the lady next door, June, she’s 94. She goes to work every morning. Every morning the bus comes between 5 to 7 and 5 after 7. I’m always in the window looking out for her, making sure the bus driver gets off the bus and help her. She does have a really nice bus driver this go round... You just kind of look out for your neighbor...

Given that it doesn’t seem like there’s much going on what are some things that people can be doing to get involved in the neighborhood? What are some things that could improve in the neighborhood? Where could people put energy?

I think first start off by getting to know your neighbors. That’s a start. Once you can know your neighbors then you can network out. Then you can come together.

Are there any things going on now, maybe little things that are maybe small problems now that you could see becoming big problems if they’re not taken care of?

No, we’ve got that taken care of. Bad neighbors tend to weed themselves out of the neighborhood. People nowadays don’t want to speak up. When they see something they want to close their blinds and don’t want to be involved. That’s the only thing I’ve noticed. In the summertime sometimes there’s people going in your car, not so much stealing, just in ‘em. I never lock my vehicle cuz it sits in the driveway and I don’t have anything to steal. They’re just checking your door. That’s the only thing I’ve noticed in the neighborhood.

What are some things you’d like to see happen in the neighborhood?

Something for the kids cuz I would like to see more kids in the neighborhood, and maybe there are and you know… I love kids. There’s not a lot (for the kids). I would like to see more kid involvement in the neighborhood because I don’t know where the kids are. ...they are our future.