Picardy was the center of my universe growing up. We played, fought, slept and discovered much of life there.
That was in the 1950s.
World War II was a very fresh memory for the adults back then. Segregation was commonplace. And the social and economic classes of the time were readily apparent.
Picardy Place, later Picardy Street, was shaped like the letter “T” but laying down to the left.
We lived at the tip of the north leg.
All the residents of Picardy were white and middle to upper-middle class. Most went to a Christian church on a regular basis. Lawns were well kept except occasionally when, depending on a teenager’s temperament, the grass might get a bit long until Dad supplied some motivation.
I spent a lot of my growing up on two wheels. I could tour the neighborhood by first riding out to Fenwick where, turning left, it was uphill past Lynn’s to Garden Lane. Turning left there went slightly downhill again and past Barnett Circle, a dead end. Left again onto Humes would take you to Lombardy where another left would get you back to Fenwick and finally to Picardy.
Those streets set the bounds in more ways than one for most of my growing up.
Each street, place, circle and road gathered a different group.
Fenwick Road, the main drag running north and south between Poplar and Central and providing the only access to Picardy, had houses only on its west side, the opposite being the backside of fences for Chickasaw Gardens. Fenwick residents were a leg down on the economic ladder from Picardy. They were nice folks for the most part, but with smaller houses, older cars and messy lawns. Their lives lacked the filigree of financial comfort. Some were retirees rarely seen except to sweep off the city’s sidewalk in front of their modest home or to unload groceries from the back seat after the weekly run to the Weona (pronounced “we-own-a”) grocery store a mile away. But most were working men and women with a couple of kids and the usual struggles.
Riding up Fenwick from Picardy, it was maybe a quarter mile to Garden Lane, a narrow east-west connector that ran downhill both physically and economically from Fenwick. Dark and shaded for the first stretch, I vaguely remember it was not paved when I first started my explorations on bicycle. Houses were mixed, some single-family, some duplex, some owned, some rented. Those of retirees stood out with better maintenance and the common bright blue mirror ball sitting in a bird bath in the front yard.
Barnett Circle, a dead end jutting down to the south from Garden Lane and ending with its back yards butted up against mine, was all rental duplexes. Most residents were short term, a few years at most. Although I went up and down Barnett often after pushing my bike through a gap in our back fence or by foot and through its back yards innumerable times, I don’t remember a single name or face from Barnett Circle. It seemed it was just a place to pass through and be forgotten.
Continuing west on Garden Lane past Barnett Circle, the next street was Humes running north to south. Google-Earth says it is a “Street” but, to me, it was never more than just plain Humes.
It had the greatest variety of residents. At the corner with Garden Lane, the Webbs were at the furthest point of my neighborhood acquaintances. Jackie would occasionally be included in whatever play was happening. He is also the only one I knew as a child who would later be killed in Vietnam.
Bebop’s Dad, a little ways south from the Webbs and on the east side, was two doors away from his divorced wife and children. His place was always dark and tightly shuttered but the sounds of male and female laughter were not uncommon and it was his trash that would educate us through old Playboy and Hustler magazines.
Farther south on Humes were some very nice homes, as nice as those you’d find on Picardy. They had relatively big lots, giant shade trees and lawns maintained by regular, paid care. The niceness of the homes was directly related to proximity with Lombardy.
Turning the corner, Lombardy was where the rich folks lived. Huge homes on gigantic lots were the norm with every one of them set back a hundred feet or so. Surprisingly like Garden Lane in this single aspect, Lombardy had no sidewalks. Garden Lane was that way because it was too narrow whereas Lombardy wanted it that way and its residents repeatedly quashed every one of the city’s efforts to put them in. Many Lombardy homes had separate out buildings, always in back and hidden from street view. These were detached garages complete with upstairs for storage or living, or mother-in-law homes with full plumbing and kitchens, or, in one case, a cabana for the only private swimming pool in the neighborhood.
Lombardy ran east-west and connected back to Fenwick where it was downhill and back to Picardy to complete the circuit.
It was in those confines that I spent most of my childhood with only the occasional foray outside.
To the east was Chickasaw Gardens on the other side of Fenwick. There was only one way in from Fenwick, via Lombardy. It was a very nice area. I’ll say that again: it was a very nice area. Every house and yard was extremely well kept and kids that lived there always wanted you to know there were from “the garden”. They rarely came out of their area to mingle.
My trek to school always took me through the gardens so I learned the twisty, shaded streets fairly early. There was a big ditch for storm runoff, part of or feeding into Nonconnah Creek, that ran through the middle of the gardens. The ditch had gently sloping concreted sides that, when dry, made for fun back-and-forth “through the dip” riding until replaced with a vertical walled ditch that precluded bicycles but still admitted foot traffic provided you could find a place to climb in and back out.
The gardens also had a lake, now “Memphis Lake”, that was stocked with bream and catfish, presumably for the local kids as no one else ever fished there. In the summer, the shaded shoreline was a nice place to take off your black high top sneakers and white socks and then wriggle your toes down into the cool, moist earth, lay back and watch the clouds as the wind swirled softly through the leaves high above.
The best bait was uncooked biscuit dough sunk to the bottom with no float for the catfish, or set at 12″ for the bream which tasted better but was fished out first leaving only the gamier catfish — we called them bullheads. On rare occasion you might spot the head of a snapping turtle poking up from the water.
North of my neighborhood was like the immediate area, houses and rentals, middle income or less, all the way up to Poplar Avenue. We rarely strayed north of Garden Lane. Nor, apparently, did those residents stray south of it. For whatever reason, it formed an unspoken “do not cross” line for kids.
Farther out from my immediate neighborhood and to the west were the north-south railroad tracks and, beyond, Collier’s Field, now Toby Park. I remember it as a large area of lightly rolling hills and long summer grasses in which you could completely disappear simply by lying down.
And to the south beyond Lombardy, there were only giant backyards and then the houses, you could call them mini-estates, on Central Avenue. Beyond that was more of the same until reaching Southern Avenue and the east-west railroad tracks. The Orange Mound and, at the time, its color barrier, lay beyond.
But my early years rarely took me to other than those six streets. Without pedaling hard, I could make it all the way around in fifteen minutes, from Picardy to Fenwick, Garden Lane, glance down Barnett Circle but continue before turning left onto Humes, left again on Lombardy to Fenwick and, finally, back to Picardy.
For most of my childhood, I would have little reason to look, see, think or experience anything farther afield than that little neighborhood.
That was my world in the 1950s.