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Becoming a Neighbor: An Ode to Midtown

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Becoming a Neighbor: An Ode to Midtown

Katie Howerton

 

Megan was a fact nut, the kind of girl who was interested in the details in everything she studied. She once committed a semester to checking out a certain number of design books at the library just to keep herself inspired in her trade and always learning. So it shouldn’t have surprised me when began research on her new historic duplex on Arlington and affectionately referred to it by the name the metal sign read outside: The Merriweather House.

I can’t remember a thing she told me about it and its long backstory, but I do recall the covered porch with plenty of room for friends, the mantle holding majestic pottery over an unused fireplace, and the quirky architecture of the half-bath. Of course, like the dozens of midtown houses I’ve visited, it stands out amongst its neighboring homes, each just as odd and beautiful as the Merriweather.

Take a right onto Lambuth from there, and you’ll soon stumble upon West Grand to your right, Westmoreland to your left, where a few doors down is the past home of my husband Jordan (and before him the past home of another friend), often compared to Tolkien’s Shire with its cobblestone exterior and rounded doorframe. Many Saturday afternoons were spent there with me captivated by the way the light played on the hardwood floors and trying to find any excuse to curl up in the tiny nook with the circular window. Sure, I fell down the narrow stairs more than once, but the mysterious backyard kept me coming back.

Aaron and Emmy moved in to a house just a five-minute walk down Westmoreland—to the right of Courtney and Jacob’s, across from Lisa and Joe’s, and cornered by Alice and (the other) Aaron’s. Courtney’s vintage, minimalistic touch has left its prints on every room, from the giant dining table that could seat twelve to the unheated renovated garage in the back where we convinced ourselves for a month or two to get back into our past ballet exercises. Lisa’s home is small but perfect for her run-from-home business, the carport just the thing for dying fabrics. I once tagged along to Alice’s for my sister to let the dogs out, loving the little path leading to the front door and the quaint backyard. And, of course, Jordan and I spend nearly every Sunday night at Aaron and Emmy’s, a new renovation to delight in each week. I envy their open back patio but am comforted to know that their backyard is a grassless field of weeds like mine.

Around the corner is Bethany’s family home on Division with the basement as big as the upper floor. Next door is Heather’s 70s oasis with the giant windows. And the other end of the street holds the Pflasterer’s vibrantly painted house with the chunky, plant-camouflaged porch.

It is the lives of countless individuals that have toured me around this neighborhood, stretched my legs outside their comfort zone.

Wisdom holds the house the three girls share, the screened-in porch’s wooden lattice casting crazy shadows on our Sunday brunch and the all-yellow walls keeping even the rainy days feeling bright. A block over sits the Worleys’ old estate that transports me to England, complete with rustic library and some sort of ridiculous but adorable miniature door for the kids to peer down into the living room.

And then there’s unforgettable Westwood, stretching from Highland to Tigrett with all sorts of friends and the hidden gem of Westwood Gardens bridging the gap. Each time I drove home to Danielle’s place (where I had crashed in the guest room for the summer), I would pass the mirroring houses with plant collections so vast I was convinced the owners were silent nemeses. I wonder how long it took them to collect a botanical garden’s worth of greenery folded over itself.

Danielle is a go-getter, I learned, when one day after work the house had transformed into a DIY paint workshop. That house held so many memories it’s almost difficult to remember all its quirks, my emotions clouding my vision. But I do remember the porch. Though bulky like most all the ones in midtown, the airy sensation of swaying on the creaky swing made even the heaviest, most humid summer days feel an absolute delight. It was here I sipped my Earl Grey tea, gingerly letting my bare toes brush the dirty floor, lazily watching the kids play with toy lawn mowers and seashells. Sometimes I would sit for hours watching the slowness of the street, and, if I was lucky, a stray cat would join me in the quiet.

I drive these tree-shaded roads with a sense of pride, still amazed to get a chance for my stories to play out between these thickly repainted walls of such a rich and diverse history.

It was there on the swing that I was first hit with the weight of these midtown memories, how my feet had scuffed the floors of so many of these homes, my mind wandering up the walk to others unfamiliar to me. From the “Diva Den” on Lambuth to the Wilsons’ across from Cari’s to the “City House” moved from Highland to Waverly to Sunset, it is the lives of countless individuals that have toured me around this neighborhood, stretched my legs outside their comfort zone.

Danielle and her family recently moved to a bigger, less musty home on Forest, one we lovingly refer to as “The Estate” with its impressive private library and sparkly chandelier reflecting tiny rainbows throughout the dining room. I continue to discover its new charms even though the empty space left on the Westwood porch swing will tease me forever. The nostalgia still lingers as I pass my college house on Campbell, and even now envy sprouts as I glance inside the windows of homes much grander than my simple duplex off Russell. But gratitude abounds and sustains my weary heart that has so longed for an illustration, a something, to embody the intangibility of community, family, welcome. I drive these tree-shaded roads with a sense of pride, still amazed to get a chance for my stories to play out between these thickly repainted walls of such a rich and diverse history.


Originally from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Katie Howerton moved to Jackson in 2011 to study Graphic Design and Drawing at Union University. She discovered Our Jackson Home in January 2015 and used it as a guinea pig for her senior design project, creating the first issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine. After graduating she was given leadership over Our Jackson Home at theCO, where she now runs the blog, designs the magazine, and coordinates events. She and her husband Jordan live in Midtown and are active members of City Fellowship Baptist Church.

Illustrator Courtney Searcy likes to design things, take pictures, and write words that tell good stories about their community. Jackson became home after she graduated from Union University in 2014, where she studied Graphic Design and Journalism. She currently works as a graphic designer at BW Creative while continuing to make paper goods on the side. She thinks the best things in life are porch swings, brunch, art, music, and friends to share it all with.