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Silver Threads: Quiet in Algiers

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

The street we live on is so quiet you can hear the proverbial — dried leaf — drop. (See next week’s column on avoiding cliches in writing.)

There’s not much going on here except on garbage collection days and during the mailman’s late-morning stops at our curb-side boxes; more excitement arrives with the sounds of Fed-Ex and UPS trucks rolling along and braking at homes where packages are expected.

Even the dogs walked daily down our street are mostly politely silent, unless our yappie dachshund Heidi challenges them as they pass, in which case I apologize for her rudeness and then get into short conversations with owners, some rushing from work to preparations for dinner, but most of whom are retired and just out for a little exercise.

Some of my neighbors I’ve not seen out in weeks — months — and I can name the ones who are elderly; the only signs of life around their houses are the several times a week visits of sons, daughters, grandchildren, grass-cutters, and, sadly, the EMTs sometimes called to attend them.

There have been two deaths on our block this year: that of a grandmother who came from Poland to help when her daughter’s triplets were born 20 years ago, and an elderly man who had been active on our homeowners board since the area was opened in the ‘70s. One ambulance called for my husband, who fell over a chair in the night and thought he’d broken his hip.

I got to thinking about all this the other while reading a Wall Street Journal article about seniors who like to retire in place. That's typical of New Orleanians; unless you have a son or daughter who works in, say, Ohio, fall into ill health and get resettled up there at the insistence of your offspring, you stay here.

After all, you almost never ever have to shovel snow, and don’t have to worry — as my friend from Minneapolis did while visiting us one winter week — about how far into your front yard the street plows are pushing the frozen stuff. (Me, I thought snow just melted away a couple of days after it fell.)

Then I got to reading another WSJ story about how some European countries welcome the influx of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East because their populations are declining. There are more middle-aged and elderly people in the world today than there ever were, and that goes for the United States, New Orleans and Kings Canyon Drive in Algiers too.

We moved into this neighborhood in 1974. I was 39, my husband 44 and our son and daughter 13 and 15. We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years — and, yes, there are people pushing babies in strollers down our street, but not that many. It's seldom that I get a sight of a little bicyclist or a kid on a skateboard. Maybe the neighborhood children are at home, texting and talking on their iPhones or playing video games?

Not likely, according to a report on  Southeast Louisiana growth index website The Data Center: In our area, “… the share of households with children is shrinking while the share of individuals living alone is growing — both across the metro and nation. As of 2013, 26 percent of households in the New Orleans metro included children, down from 34 percent in 2000. Between 2000 and 2013, the percent of St. Tammany households with children declined from 40 percent to 31 percent; the percent of Jefferson households with children declined from 33 percent to 24 percent; and the percent of Orleans households with children declined from 30 percent to 21 percent.”

Youngsters have always been the folks “out and about” in a neighborhood. Forty years ago, our daughter and her friends traipsed from one of their homes to anothers’ and hung out in driveways and on the sidewalks with the boys when they got through with football practice.

I miss them; it’s too quiet here.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]