I have a key on my keychain that has been there for thirty years. Until today, it has always had a purpose. I'm not sure what I'll do with it now, but throwing it away doesn't seem an option-- not today, anyway.
Thirty years ago I was a single mom living with my year old daughter in a 4th floor apartment in Springfield's South End. I loved my little apartment, but hardly anyone came to visit, and I was barely making ends meet. One day-- still in the tail end of the feminist era-- I saw an ad in the Valley Advocate from a woman who was looking for three or four woman to rent a house with. I answered her ad and in fairly short order we found a large Victorian in McKnight that we could rent. It hadn't been occupied in a number of years and there was lots of work to be done, but it seemed a great adventure.
The owner of the house was a young man who'd also bought a dozen other properties in McKnight. Lots of gentrification was taking place in the late seventies/early eighties, but this guy had a different vision for McKnight. I thought he was idealistic but flaky. He used a lot of big words and it was hard to pin down his meaning. The repair people he hired tended to be pretty low-skilled. Once he hired unlicensed people to remove the lead paint from the exterior, but they didn't put any tarps down so later the soil around the house had to be removed. I'll never forget that when a set of plumbers he sent forgot to recap the soil pipe in the basement. He sent his elderly mother with a mop and bucket over to clean up the mess! This was pretty par for the course with him.
Over the next six or seven years women, mostly young professionals, came and went, but somehow I stayed. I loved the huge back yard and had started an organic garden which got a little bigger (and better) every year. I'd also started doing a little front desk coverage for the Valley Advocate, which at the time had a Springfield office right at the end of my street, and was beginning to do a little writing for the paper. And there were lots of kids in the neighborhood, which was mostly Black families with a few Latinos and whites sprinkled in. What better way to safeguard my Caucasian daughter against racism than for her to grow up in a racially diverse neighborhood?
Gradually the household occupants shifted from strangers to family. My older daughter moved in and both of my sisters lived there for a while. I grew fonder and fonder of my house and my neighborhood. Paying the rent and utilities was always a challenge, but manageable because the expenses were shared. Still, it wasn't my house, and our future was always uncertain.
One day my landlord came to me and asked if iId be interested in helping to form a housing cooperate, where people owned coop shares and could stay in their homes for as long as they lived. Would I? Did he even have to ask?