Who is an Old South Ender?
Who is an Old South Ender?
by Alison Barnet
Friday Jul 9, 2010
How does someone qualify to be an Old South Ender? Can you become an Old South Ender after living here twenty years? Thirty years?
My definition of an Old South Ender is someone born and raised in the South End up until the early 1960s, a definition that leaves me out, despite the title of this column, since I wasn’t born or raised here but came as a college student. An Old South Ender belongs here and didn’t come from somewhere else, except maybe as a baby.
An Old South Ender usually isn’t rich or highly educated-in the formal sense-but has a certain sensibility, a toughness and resiliency, a sense of humor, a built-in detector for-how shall I say it?-nonsense, and a loyalty to the neighborhood and its people, no matter who they are and what they’ve done.
An Old South Ender:
-was born at City Hospital
-had a father who was a Russian Jew and an Italian mother, or a Lebanese father and a Filipino mother, or comes from a large, mixed-race family
-can name every building and every business on the block where s/he grew up in the Forties and Fifties
-went to the Dwight school and pronounces it D-wight; ditto Green-wich Park and the muniCIPal building
-greets you from blocks away like a long-lost brother or sister-which you may be
-loves to hang out on the corner for hours talking and laughing
-had mothers and grandmothers who were singing waitresses in South End nightclubs, their gowns the envy of all the girls in the neighborhood
-took toe, tap and ballet with Anna Bobbit Gardner
-will never forget his membership number at the South End Boys Club . . . and the boy who had #1
-tells history in terms of bars, clubs and the bookies on every corner
-saw famous musicians in Crosstown clubs-underage
-went to settlement houses and summer camps out of town-maybe the only time s/he left the neighborhood
-takes territory very seriously
-knows four people who were shot and killed and knows who did it
Says one, "No true South Ender would be without a handcuff key."
With the early 1970s, a skew developed, and since then it hasn’t been possible to become an Old South Ender. You can stand up at a meeting and say, "I’m a forty-year resident," but it’s not the same. The difference is primarily class, although it may be race too. If you came here to buy property years ago, as an "urban pioneer," you may not be New but you can’t say you’re Old. You didn’t pay your dues in the Old South End where rent was cheap (and we liked it that way), crime was high (but we didn’t get all bent out of shape about it), and the mix was amazing.
If you don’t think that the Fifties and Sixties were "the South End’s walk in the sun," as one nostalgic Old South Ender puts it, you’re not an Old South Ender. If you hold a dim view of the past, labeling the Old South End a slum and insisting on how much things have improved, you’re certainly not an Old South Ender. Far worse is if you walk a baby in a stroller to which a dog is leashed, while yakking on a cell phone.