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Ravinia Neighbors Association Blog

Welcome to RNA’s Blog Page which features articles from Ravinia writers. Although articles are chosen in accordance with topics we feel are relevant to Ravinia and of possible interest to our readers, RNA does not necessarily endorse the opinions put forth in the blog posts. If you would like to comment on any articles put forth in the blogs, please use the comment box that follows each post.

This Pocket

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

By Amy Lohmolder

As a person who moved too often as a child, I’ve tended to romanticize small towns where one’s neighbors are well known. In my mind, they are the settings of Norman Rockwell paintings, places where children like Opie in the “The Andy Griffith Show” grow up happy and well adjusted and where quiet heroes like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life are made. You can tell me your discouraging stories of real-life small towns from which you come (and college friends from across Iowa did). I will acknowledge it all and agree that sometimes people certainly can fall short. Still, I am lured back by artists of the Rockwell ilk, compassionate humorists who see the best in us. And I hold to the notion that the best in us grows in smaller communities where people know and care about one another.

Despite my idolizing of small towns, I was less than enthusiastic that first time my husband drove me along Roger Williams Avenue. I had become contented living in the city for many years and was not eager to leave my “happening” urban neighborhood, long time friends and cherished routines for any suburb. My husband, hoping to gain an easier commute to his Deerfield office, slowed the car, nodding towards the places I might frequent once situated in the house that was for sale a few blocks away. I sized up the little business district with an eye towards recompense for myself. What might be gotten here? It was true that it didn’t look like the suburb for which I had prepared myself. I caught sight of an old fashioned barber pole spinning in front of one little shop. There were a variety of stores, restaurants, a coffee shop and a convenient store that kept the lights on all night. Having come to feel at home on lit up streets, this last piece seemed especially important at the time. I would tell my city friends that the area called Ravinia was cute, a bustling-enough nook while a bit of a sanctuary too, established, tree-lined and as walk-able as any city neighborhood. The village-like area even had a quaint old train station (with tracks straight back to Chicago’s Clyborne Station.) At first, this tie to my old home was reassuring.

Making the best of things soon blossomed into a hopeful stance and an appreciation of the more obvious charms of my new home. I was encouraged by the stories of a few city friends who revealed their own surprising and meaningful stories of Jens Jensen Park and Shelton’s Restaurant, just across from the park. Perhaps something special and unseen draws us to places of which we are kin. My family stopped in for breakfast at Shelton’s one Saturday morning. The restaurant, still run by May, (and which has since closed down) was no longer in its prime, but I understood why a few loyal regulars still came even then. I began to revel in new routines -- my train rides to work and then, upon my return, being met at the station by my husband and son. Strolls down to Lake Michigan revealed a view as lovely as the beach frequented in Chicago. There was no lit up skyline here. And yet the lake was magnificent, sometimes crashing, sometimes serene, lit up by sun and moon, colors ever changing with the vagaries of the sky above. The woodlands and ravines surrounding Ravinia reminded me of a beloved childhood home in Pennsylvania.

At some point I discovered a website, apparently created by the same group that hung historic photographs at the train station and worked to beautify the neighborhood. Someone in this group, the Ravinia Neighbors Association, had taken the time to research the history of the village – once a spiritual community that evolved into a lively enclave of artists and naturalists. This, I especially liked. Time revealed a Ravinia embraced by many, people who committed themselves to preserving the village. I clipped the membership coupon from the neighborhood newsletter and wrote a check in support.

I first attended a Ravinia Neighbors meeting the summer that I decided I wanted to put on an Earth Day Festival. I won’t go into why that was important to me. But I will say that I could not have done it without RNA backing. After the festival was over, I continued to come to meetings. And because I continued to come, I saw how the Ravinia network rallied to support a business owner forced to vacate at the whim of a large corporation, and how board members organized a meeting with city officials to help flooded residents on the (then) not-so-pleasant Pleasant Avenue. There is an unending array of items that find their way to RNA agendas, and neighbors show up on a fairly regular basis with concerns, requests for help and ideas of how to make things a little better in this corner of the world. Our assorted lot does a decent job in attempts to respond, struggling at times to come to consensus about how aims might best be achieved or the needs of competing interests balanced. Often, I am struck by the kindness, good humor and persistence of those who despite occasional frustrations, keep coming back.

A quote I like by Carl Schurz says that “Ideals are like stars” that will not be touched, “But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and, in following them, you reach your destiny”. Sometimes, I get hung up in idealism, wishing for the time when life was said to be simpler - less materialistic – when people invested more in community and serving the larger whole. Maybe I credit the past with too much; then again maybe this good is not all in the past. I can choose to be guided by ideals and make my home. In the years since I first grappled with leaving the city for the suburbs, I have come to feel that this pocket we call Ravinia is my small town – a place where Norman Rockwell could surely find a tableau worthy of his canvas.