Here's my contribution to this:
I missed participating in the first Great Ithaca Write-In – that was two months after my daughter was born; and this baby did not want to be put down despite it being one of the hottest summer on record. Now she’s 25 and living in Brooklyn and I have a little more time.
I still live in the same house that she grew up in on West Court Street in the West End of Ithaca. It’s now nestled in the middle of the highway median between north and south Route 13, but back then Route 13 was not a divided highway and trees still lined the sidewalk on Fulton Street, which is now Route 13 South, but was then a quiet side street. In the late 80’s the divisive debate over what to do to untangle the Octopus broiled over. It eventually ended with the compromise of the one-way pair for Route 13 and two new bridges over the flood control channel. Thankfully there is not an overpass roaring over the Cayuga Inlet as some had proposed, along with a four-lane highway on West Hill. One day we returned from vacation and all the trees on Fulton Street and the last block of West Court Street were gone. We endured several years of construction noise and dust. The pounding to tear up the street caused fractures in the foundation of my house. Fortunately insurance covered the damage and the new sewer lines prevented future flooding. The neighborhood has slowly been healing as the new trees grow, but it’s still a neighborhood scattered with blight – vacant and run-down properties.
It may not be obvious to the thousands of drivers going through the neighborhood, but there is a lot of green space here on the median. When I bought this property with my ex-husband in 1986, I was drawn to the deep sunny yard and envisioned an urban paradise. Four old peach trees graced the property. Three survived for a few more years providing us with the most delicious peaches I’ve ever tasted. They were planted by a previous owner, Cesar Capucci. An acquaintance, who was a friend of his daughter Ann Marie, remembers seeing him plant some sticks in the ground when she was a child, and she was doubtful when he said they were going to grow into peach trees. He also had chickens to the chagrin of his neighbor Frank Gatch.
When Mr. Gatch died in 2001, after living there for over 50 years and raising three kids, one of whom, Ed Gatch, was Ithaca’s postmaster at the time, we negotiated with the family to buy his house. We had shared a driveway and chats about our gardens over the fence for 15 years, and my partner Steve had his eye on the garage which would make an excellent workshop. Previously he was toiling away on his sculptures in our five-foot basement. We appreciate that the Gatch family worked with us to buy the house, even though a neighborhood developer was bidding on the property as well. The developer has been buying up properties on the block for years and then they often go vacant, or are rented out but not kept in repair. It seems to be a long-term plan to eventually knock down houses and put up apartments.
Today we are continuing some of the old traditions of the Italians and other working families who lived here in the past – gardening, canning, and raising chickens. Soil and drainage are excellent as we stand upon an ancient marsh that was filled early last century; and the long growing season is the envy of friends who garden in the surrounding hills. In mid-May we’re already eating abundant greens from the garden – the dandelions and garlic mustard weeds that others disdain; kale, radicchio, and spinach which we had covered with leaves to survive the winter; broccoli raab and wild arugula which re-seeded itself, as well as the thinnings from the lettuces, spinach and arugula I sowed in early April. We hope that in the future there is always some green space in the middle of this block in the wild West End.