Hard economic times have taken a toll on our neighborhood. We have seen longtime neighbors leave their homes.
We have noticed some homes in need of repair and yards in need of upkeep. It is hard to maintain a positive approach to your neighborhood when you do not have employment or the ability to stay in your home is in jeopardy.
Our neighborhood is not alone in these hard times. We are different in that many other neighborhoods have been devastated. Parts of our city appear to be abandoned rather than in the midst of hard times.
What makes the difference?
We have a community as well as a neighborhood. We know each other and we care about the folks who share our street and our ZIP code. As a consequence of this caring and interactive attitude, we have folks making hard decisions to stay in the homes they love because they love their neighborhood. This is the character of Old Seminole Heights.
Our homes have internal memories. Through the decades the lath, bricks and boards stand in testament, our homes are the mute witnesses of times good and bad.
My 1925 home has existed through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, a dozen threatening hurricanes, downturns in the economy and countless concerns, fears and deaths within the lives of its owners.
It has witnessed the joys of wars ending, hard times easing, families growing. It welcomed me into its good embrace a decade ago.
I have the joy of a hand-scribed brick fireplace, designed 85 years ago in the arts and crafts style. It is constructed of rough hewn blond brick made one at a time, assembled on site by skilled craftsmen, the physical and emotional center of my home. Even though in most winters the number of fires is small and for most of the year it is empty and closed. It is always there, the hearth and heart of my home. I see it as a talisman. Long before there was our neighborhood, families gathered around fires. Primal need, thousands of years later, has become social reinforcement. Through good and bad times the fire has burned brightly, as long as it was tended.
That is the lesson I carry from my home: Tend the fires. Through good, bad or boring eras the home that has stood for 85 years needs my attention. I may not have the ability to add a home theater but I can keep the front yard mowed, the pathway swept. I believe that my attention to my house maintains my belief in home. I believe that keeping my house up keeps my spirits up. I believe that the houses that have survived longer than I will live will, with my help, keep a constant vigil for the next set of owners. The folks that will take my place will see the neighborhood through different eyes but with a shared desire for more than a house. Old Seminole Heights is as good as the homeowners and neighbors want it to be. I hope they will sit in front of my fireplace and know they share in the responsibility to keep the home fires burning.
This letter ran previously in The Seminole Heights Advisor, a neighborhood newsletter. Linda Rodgers, 59, moved to Old Seminole Heights in 1999.
The Hillsborough River has always been the life-giving thread that has meandered around some of our most pristine areas. Its banks are always teeming with wildlife, while its thick tree canopy serves as an aviary for many colorful wading and songbirds that we cherish.
Our neighborhood association has fought tirelessly against the many efforts made to overly develop and commercialize what still remains of some of our most naturally picturesque areas. These include many of the admired springs and artesian wells that we, in cooperation of the City Parks and Recreation Department, have managed to save as city parks and playgrounds. One of the oldest city-owned properties is the Henry and Ola City Park on West Henry Avenue.
It was used as a "borrow pit" in the 1930s from which the city removed dump truckloads of dirt to use in construction. My street dead-ended at Ola Avenue. As 8- and 10-year-old children, my friends and I were intrigued by this property; it was the perfect setting for playing cowboys and Indians. We all went to the Seminole Theater on Saturday afternoons to see the Western serial films that my father called "Shoot 'em up, Tonys." We borrowed the actors' identities to reenact the serial throughout the following week. Therefore, Hopalong Cassidy and Tom Mix rode with us as we captured horse thieves and bank robbers for the grateful sheriff.
Once the pits were leveled and the area seeded with pasture grass to anchor the dirt, our wonderful play area took on a new identity. Since many of our neighbors had cows, goats, horses and ponies, the city allowed them to pasture the livestock on that property. The animals were staked out from early morning until late afternoon. I recall my mother reminding me to "be back to the house before the cows come home." That was a daily reference to the afternoon exodus of the livestock, with much mooing and bleating, as they all returned to their backyard enclosures for the night.
There was one very large black bull in the pasture. We were warned to stay away from him. He had a wide-eyed stare and often pawed the ground and snorted when approached. One day, he broke his stake and we were not aware of it until we heard and felt his galloping hooves running toward us. Terrified, we ran to a neighbor's elevated hen house. We escaped the bull, but we had to catch all of the chickens that had run away squawking, with feathers flying, over many vacant lots. Several of those friends, who like me are now "long in the tooth," often laughingly recall those innocent but memorable times in semi-rural Seminole Heights.
This letter ran previously in The Seminole Heights Advisor, a neighborhood newsletter. Barbara Farrar lived in the heart of Old Seminole Heights from her birth in 1926 until her death in March 2011. She was a founding Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association member. Her niece gave permission to reprint Farrar's letter.