The two-lane road my partner Johnny and I were taking seemed really narrow compared to the eight-lane interstates that I am used to. Deep within seemingly endless corn and soybean fields, I could see a family farmhouse peek its gabled apex above the tall corn. Occasionally, I would catch a glimpse of a long driveway before it disappeared into the countless rows of farmland plants. Instinctively, I knew it leads to the house that I just had just seen a few seconds before, but the complete path to the house was almost never afforded me. The whole scene seemed womb-like, the crops a protective layer around the house. It was easy to romanticize the isolated and independent life of the family whose existence was tethered to the cycle of the growing season and the gifts of a long and prosperous season.
I reflected on the independent nature of a farmer and his family, having to do whatever he/she could do to ensure a successful crop. I imagined myself asking: “How can I, as a small farmer, maintain a huge farm on my own?”. “Community” seemed to me to have a much wider “breathing space” than my life in New York City. Independence, self-reliance and a strong and somewhat defiant nature would be needed, if not demanded, to live such a lifestyle. Occasionally we would come across a roadside farm stand selling fruits and vegetables to the passing cars filled with vacationing families traveling to and from the eastern Shore of the United States. We stopped and bought some tomatoes – you can always use tomatoes – but you have to take special care of them while traveling.
I must admit, that I was concerned about facilitating this “One-Night Stand” with my partner Johnny, but I felt that the Greenbelt community was fundamentally created to support the family structure and Johnny and I (along with my ex-wife and three daughters) are a family, so I asked if it could bring him along. My host Megan enthusiastically agreed. Given the current political and social debates stirring, I wondered what type of acceptable public face could I show? I have never been withholding of my present family situation. I was married to an amazing woman and we have three grown adult children, and now I have a male partner of almost 9 years. We keep a pretty normal household in our tiny New York City apartment. Our extended family live all across the nation. As far as I am concerned, we are a fairly normal American family. We have issues, holidays, parties and communicate with each other frequently – via Snapchat, Tweet, and text.
In fact, while Johnny was driving and I was researching my next “One-night Stand”, I received several urgent texts from my youngest daughter, whose computer crashed – and was in need of a new one for her college classwork. A few joint texts with her mom and me were in order – we all pooled our money to help out – sometimes you need a little help and this was one of those times. The issue was resolved and we ended our joint family chat with an “XO” text. A few short hours later, she Snapchat’d me an image of her setting up a new computer.
As we neared the planned Greenbelt community outside of Washington DC, the two-lane roads began to widen and the landscape slowly transformed from the startling green of the farmland to the vista of isolated strip shopping centers wrapped in parking lots. The change in the landscape wasn’t immediate, in fact there– it seemed more like an ebb and flow of development, like a wave of urbanization. There seemed to be a layer of the landscape that, at one time, was developed, but now was in a state of receding and decay, while other areas seemed new and fresh with buildings. This in-between zone felt messy and disorganized – neither rural farm land, nor intense urbanization.
While Johnny drove from the farmland of Delaware and Maryland and onto the busy Washington DC Beltway, I read the original “Greenbelt Towns” basic program manual from 1936. I was invited to sleep overnight at the Greenbelt Historic House Museum as part of my “One-Night Stand” series. I was to actually inhabit the house as an original occupant and get a sense of how the house could inform the present through understanding its history. The Greenbelt community is a project started under the Roosevelt “New Deal” Administration in 1935-36. The manual makes it quite clear: there were a handful of pilot community projects planned (only three were implemented). The mission of the Greenbelt Town Projects was lofty, and unified a lot of pressing needs for the depression-era United States: “The Suburban Resettlement Division of the Resettlement Administration is engaged in building several RURAL-INDUSTRIAL communities on the outskirts of badly crowded cities…eventually each town will provide low-rental homes for 3,000-5,000 families…”. It now seemed fortuitous for me, that the drive to Greenbelt had taken us through the very landscapes that the Greenbelt community projects were trying to unify. Their goal was to produce a planned community that, in a thoughtful way, allowed for both rural, verdant farmland production alongside more “urban” or “suburban” family living – thus the hybrid name GREENBELT.
Of course, not everyone thought this was a good idea. Many felt there was more than slight smell of “communism” to the whole endeavor. As if to bypass the expected criticism of a seemingly “socialist” planned community, the manual states in the first paragraph, “The community (is to be) designed primarily for families and community life which will be better than they now enjoy, but which will not involve subjecting them to coercion or theoretical and untested discipline;”
Entering the Greenbelt Maryland area has a feel of entering into a childhood summer camp – the grown-ups have set everything up for you and now you can enjoy the summer. The signage, the similarity of building forms, and the interconnected quality of the community plan make it clear that you are in a world unto itself. There is a sense that something policy and code driven is determining the urban morphology. I at least, felt that parts of Greenbelt stood like a manifestation of an ideology – and this larger principal guided the smaller, innocuous, every-day choices. Greenbelt still retains much of its original 1937 designed organization, built form, and aesthetic character. More importantly, the community seems to still retain its cohesive social structure.
While waiting for my host to arrive, I sat in Roosevelt Plaza, the central gathering place, and town center. The sizzling sun was shielded by a dense green canopy of trees that gridded out the public space. The parkland was bordered by a pair of art deco, two-story buildings with ribbon metal sash casement windows, and steel pipe columned canopies. On one side was the Greenbelt movie theater, and on the other, among many other stores, were the “New Deal Café” and Greenbelt Credit Union. The sidewalks were spacious, the seats comfortable, and the crowd friendly. I knew from my research that Greenbelt was a complete community. It had a central business district (where I was resting under the cool shade of the trees), a large community center, schools, pool, library, barber and beauty shop, as well as numerous other necessities.
All of these locations were connected by a thoughtful series of pedestrian pathways, which made getting around safe and easy. The vehicular traffic was designed as a separate and distinct transportation system integrating pedestrian underpasses. These underpasses made it possible for cars to rarely interact with the circulation of the residents. As I rested in Roosevelt Plaza, Johnny ran off to the Greenbelt Barber Shop to get a trim. As designed, the Barbershop was right by within walking distance (No car needed). Later, I walked through the grocery store, window shopped, and looked at local real estate advertisements in the window of the Greenbelt real estate office.
My host arrived and wanted to take us out to lunch – we agreed and walked a few steps toward a restaurant in Roosevelt Plaza. The irony of the situation did not escape me when In the middle of a national Presidential election whose debates and party conventions are polarizing issues of immigration, the “American way of life”, and the “Core American Family”, we sat down and our host told us that the restaurant served some of the best Lebanese food anywhere. How uniquely American to be seated in a Lebanese restaurant (named the “New Deal Café”), run by an immigrant, in the center of a 1937 federally funded, planned community!
We spoke to our server behind the counter. He was Lebanese and had just immigrated to the USA in the past two years. As we enjoyed lunch, I pointed my camera out of the window so that I could snap a picture for this blog, our server was sweeping the outside seating area and noticed that I wanted to take a picture, so he stopped sweeping and stepped out of my picture. You can’t see him on the far right of the picture. He is there, silently working out of sight.
As we were leaving the “New Deal Café”, I got a call from another one of my daughters. She needed to chat and work through a personal crisis. I told her that I was just starting a “One-Night Stand”. We discussed the issue, temporarily resolved it, and agreed that I would call her back as soon as I could. I imagine that all of us reading this post have had such calls (either from parents, spouses, partners, children, and close friends). That is why a connected family & social system of relationships is so valuable to the health of a person. We all need assistance from time to time.
I got a sense that, as a “Greenbelter”, you had to be comfortable with a level of intimate knowledge of a person’s life. I imagine that this is an area where ideology overlaps with one’s personal life, it seemed to me that in order for someone to live and work in Greenbelt, you had to assume a smaller “private space” than perhaps some of those farmers we passed on our way to the “One-night stand”.
To live in Greenbelt meant that you not only had to be comfortable with a smaller personal space, but also you had a lot of rules and regulations to comply with. As we walked up to the house, I could see that the laundry was hung out to dry. I asked about such rules. All laundry had to be removed from the lines by 4:00pm each day, and never on Sundays. Interestingly, wire laundry lines themselves were allowed up, but only if they remained “drawn tightly”. I laughed inside when I heard this – the laundry lines were not the only thing tightly drawn in Greenbelt! I could imagine the “laundry rules compliance officer” doing the rounds on Sunday.
Our host told me about how the “back” of the dwelling faced the street, and the “front” of the dwelling faced the common green space on the interior of the super blocks. In the design of the community, strict delineations between public and service spaces were formulated. Given my suburban upbringing, that seemed odd to me. It appeared as if the laundry was drying in the front yard. In reading the manual, I also noticed that the property line hedges had to be no taller than 18” tall. The museum’s hedges are quite a bit taller and they provided us with a bit of privacy while taking down the laundry. Had the hedges been the regulation 18” tall, I would have felt quite naked and exposed.
Once we unloaded our bags upstairs, we came back downstairs and started finishing the laundry by taking it down, folding it and then moving upstairs to make the bed. By my New York City standards, which I suspect is smaller than what most Americans would find adequate, the bedroom size was comfortable. It had windows on two perpendicular walls which would allow for the sun throughout a good part of the day.
The house has a simple layout. On the first floor is the living room, kitchen, and closet space (aligned with the back-yard door). On the second floor are two bedrooms, a full bathroom, and additional closet space. There is a straightforwardness to the layout. Nothing particularly special or beautiful about the design, but comfortable and quite livable. The fanciest aesthetic thing of note seemed to be the picture molding that ran almost the entire house. In fact, in reading the owners manual, it informs occupants that the picture mold is there, not for aesthetics, but rather so that no damage will occur to the plaster walls. The floors are of black asphalt tile and all furniture pieces were to have rubber or glass coasters for each leg. The museum’s floor has been cleaned to a beautiful dull matte finish, although the manual gives instructions to keep the floors a high polish finish. The floors were a contentious item for many housewives. The high polish was difficult to maintain, and in fact, scratched easily.
Once the bed was made, we gathered in the kitchen to prepare the dinner for the evening. All of the recipes for the meal were prepared from the 1940s Greenbelt Woman’s Club Cook Book. Johnny and I prepared two molded Jell-O fruit salads (to be honest, Johnny made our Jell-O salads – they freaked me out). Jennifer Ruffner prepared a “spaghetti loaf, Sheila Maffay-Tuthill prepared the meatloaf, and Megan served us her “pimento cheese hors d’oeuvres”. Believe it or not, the table was almost absent of food at the end of the meal! We wondered aloud why almost everything we prepared was molded? I asked my friend and food history maven, Michelle Moon (Interpreting Food at Museums and Historic Sites, 2015) why, in 1939, was there a desire for this type of food preparation? Michelle told me that in the 1930’s, as the nation gradually recovered from the Depression, the availability of cheap flavored gelatin allowed people to creatively combine bits and scraps of food into striking-looking salads or desserts. In addition, these food forms made use of the newly common electric refrigeration units in middle-class homes. These colored gelatins produced a literally colorful table of food in an era where the “meat & potatoes” blandness dominated.
The conversation flowed freely as we tried the different dishes. Always the anthropologist, I was taking note of the environment. I opened both the front and back doors. There was a cross-breeze and it gave the house a sense of engagement with the landscape. From the dining table, I could see out of the doors & windows to both the front as well as the back yards. I noticed parents with strollers, and kids on bikes pass the house. I could hear the birds chirping and automobiles passing by. Laughter kept the meal active and vibrant. One host laughed at my observations concerning the experience of sitting in the house and eating. She said that it is nothing new to them, because this is why they bought a home in Greenbelt and why they still live there. All of the things I was taking note of, were reasons the community remains an active place. They did, however, agree that it is almost impossible, given the typical house museum experience, to ascertain such nuanced realizations. I also wondered to myself, whether this close-knit community layout might often more like an architecture of surveillance, intrusive and suffocating at times.
Following the evening events of a public presentation of my “One-Night Stand” experiences, Johnny and I came back home and started to get settled in for the night. The evening was very hot, so we kept the doors open and allowed the breeze to enter the house. I sat down at the desk in the living room, occasionally looking out the window to the common area, I began to catch up on my emails. Earlier in the day, I had found streaming podcasts of actual 1939 radio broadcasts. The “radio” had been on all over dinner and continued into the evening. As I read the day’s news online about the GOP convention, Trump and Clinton, the Turkish Coup, and the latest terrorist attacks, I also listened to the news from 1939. I took note of the stories updating Americans about the war in Europe and where the Germans had most recently invaded. That morning in 1939, Roosevelt addressed the US Congress to ask for a modification to the “Neutrality Act” in which American manufacturers were denied ability to sell munitions and war machinery to any countries actively engaged in the war. As I sat there in the safe comfort of Greenbelt, the 1939 news stories informed me about new political affiliations growing, Migrant farm works conditions, evictions, and subsidized housing debates. Everything seemed on the horizon. Scary and potentially fatal.
Once the sun had set, the wind began to pick up and lightning started flashing off in the distance. The thunder quickly came closer and a thunderstorm broke loose in Greenbelt. The back door of the house blew open and the wind rushed straight through the downstairs rooms. Johnny, always loving a good thunderstorm, rushed down the stairs and ran outside and stood under the front porch canopy. The rain was hammering the house and the sounds of the trees waving grew so loud that you couldn’t help but take notice. A few texts were exchanged between me and my host. Everyone wanted to make sure we were ok. Yep, the house felt sturdy and was a safe zone in the storm. After a while, the storm abated, the house cooled down, and I went back to my work at the desk.
Finishing my work on my computer, I went upstairs and decided to take a bath. Now this is important because the bathrooms in the Greenbelt homes were considered one of the most luxurious amenities found in the planned community. According to the 1939 Greenbelt Towns program manual, out of 64 typical American cities’ low-income homes, 34.8% had no bath or shower, and 24% had no indoor toilet. Honestly, Johnny & I don’t have a bathtub in our New York City apartment, so taking a nice hot bath sounded pretty sweet.
I think because we don’t have a tub, the experience really took on a luxurious feeling. I can only imagine how, in 1937, it must have felt to go into your brand spanking new bathroom (with indoor running water), and in privacy, take a long quiet bath. I got in the tub of hot water and just lay there. I looked around at the room from that vantage point. How clean, ordered, and modern it must have all felt – a feeling beyond simply the aesthetics of the experience, but taking on a social component by understanding the progress, construction and work it took to design, create, and build these houses. That bath represented the collective national aspiration to pull out of the depression, to build a future of health, prosperity, and safety. I had just come from downstairs where I was listening to the radio broadcast regarding the quick invasions of the Germans into Western Europe. As I rested quietly in my warm bath, I wondered how ominous it all must have felt to a 1939 “Greenbelter” – or did it feel distant?
Just like the bath I was taking, being an original “Greenbelter” must have felt quite privileged. It was a great gig if you could get it. I wondered what the cost of that privilege was? In researching how one was chosen to be an occupant, my host sent me images of some of the “rating worksheets” that were used to determine the appropriateness of potential Greenbelt dwellers. Also, understand that at the outset of the project certain populations were denied even consideration. People of color were excluded from living in the community, which while standard in the United States at the time, it is nonetheless ironic considering the land upon which Greenbelt is constructed was a series of tobacco plantations with documented slave holdings. Much of the unskilled labor force building Greenbelt was African-American and there were plans to build a “rural” satellite community for blacks, called Rossville, nearby. However, there was much political discussion and opposition to the idea, and it never materialized. The manifest argument was that there were several all-black planned communities being built in Washington DC and the larger mid-Atlantic region and that Rossville was not needed. Photographs of the construction of Greenbelt show Blacks working the same land they were enslved upon 100 years before.
Although no longer racially segregated and in fact, proudly integrated and welcoming of all populations, it was nonetheless historically considered a location of racial privilege well into the 1960’s. This issue was written about in 2006, Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (James W. Loewen), where the community was “most certainly a sundown suburb”. Sundown towns were a form of segregation, in which a town, city, or neighborhood in the United States was purposely all-white, excluding people of other races. These restrictions were enforced by some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation, and sometimes violence.
Race was not the only way that privilege was contained. For instance, formal restrictions, such as family size (IE: Italian-Americans had on average 8 children vs. the 4 limited by the Greenbelt selection process); Limiting the quantity of distinct units a family could occupy (many Immigrant family compositions contained several branches of a family tree under one roof), and finally denying all farm animals within the central housing area (Most immigrant families relied on small farm animals for daily sustenance). For whatever reasons, these hyphenated- American families were kept out of the Greenbelt selection process by the process criteria itself.
Beyond the written codes and selection process, the very architectural size and configuration of the housing units limited the type of family that could exist in Greenbelt. According to the 1940 US Census, the average American family size was 3.7. Only 10% of the households were single-parent, and in 1939, the divorce rate stood at 16%. There was an assumption in the planning of Greenbelt that all families were similar to the average white, middle class. The regulations and selection criteria inherently censured who would not fit into the Greenbelt family model. For instance, my Italian immigrant family has long considered the uncles and aunts as immediate family. Weekly dinners at Grandma’s house proved that solidarity. This was achievable because of the close, walkable proximity between households. This type of close-knit extended family was not as easily achievable in Greenbelt, as there was no selection process that considered such familiar connections in the placement of housing occupants.
The housing ranged from a small honeymoon cottages to three-bedroom family dwellings. There was a great concern of overcrowding – not only of the individual dwellings but also the community. For instance, a new birth of a child required an immediate notification to the community leadership, otherwise, the family risked removal from the project.
Believe it or not, I was really contemplating all of this while I was taking my hot bath! As I stepped out of the bathtub, went into the bedroom and changed into my pajamas. Johnny was downstairs preparing a late-night snack of some of the fruit we had brought with us. I sat down on the couch in the living room and Johnny sat at the dining room table. We chatted about our day as we listened to the lessening thunderstorm. The level of lighting in the room was far less than what we are accustomed to. Even though there was a centered, ceiling fixture, we used only the table light. The area around our conversation was lit, while the rest of the room faded into blackness. The concept of “light-conditioning” became a sales slogan of the era (see photo advertisement). Johnny and I chatted for a while-while we finished our apple slices. It was a pretty normal conversation. We discussed our day’s multiple conversations and texts with the family members, and how Laura, Johnny and I might be able to help out.
I knew a same-sex couple, like Johnny & me, would never have been allowed to cohabitate in a Greenbelt dwelling unit – it was against the law – no matter how stable, supportive, and loving the family structure was. In fact sodomy laws for both heterosexual as well as homosexual consenting adults still remain in effect in Maryland today (with a 10-year prison sentence). It was not until 1994 the Federal Government ruled that sodomy was not a crime. I later discussed this with my host. I asked her if any LGBTQ history of Greenbelt had been written? In fact, was there any latent history of gay/lesbian life in Greenbelt at all? I was told that there were most certainly LGBTQ individuals at Greenbelt (either working or living there), but no formal history has been written about the group. There is now a very active LGBTQ community in Greenbelt and since 2005 they have walked in the annual Labor Day Parade.
Tired by the day’s activities, we closed the front & back doors, turned off the lights and went upstairs. We placed a fan on the floor of the bedroom, got into bed and turned off the bedside table lamps. The lightning from the now distant storm still pierced the tar blackness of the room.
I woke up early in the morning and just lay in bed watching the light change in the room. Since the bedroom had windows on two walls, the light quality changed quickly as the eastern sun rose. I let Johnny sleep. I finally got out of bed and walked to the bathroom to pee. Because the bathroom window faces east, the light quality was quite a bit brighter than in the bedroom (which has south and west facing windows). I got dressed and went snooping around. I noticed a typewriter in the smaller children’s room. It was an interactive interpretive artifact, placed there so that children could type “articles” for the GREENBELT COOPERATOR, the community’s paper. I sat down and started typing a letter to the Greenbelt Staff and Board.
After a while, I got a text from another daughter (we have three). She needed assistance and contacted me. I grabbed the phone, went downstairs so as to not wake Johnny. I sat in the living room at the desk and discussed the consequences of a life lived, the need for health insurance and how being an adult can suck sometimes. It ended nicely, I texted “XO” after I hung up. The sun was just rising in the east, and I could tell that the rays of light were peeking from the sides of the shades. I walked over to all of the windows, released the shade’s darkness and invited in the light. I also opened the back and front doors. The cool morning air rushed in.
As I always do first thing in the morning, I opened up my computer, checked emails, and reviewed the news that occurred while we were asleep. Sometimes the news seems a bit harsh first thing in the morning. As I sat at the desk, the room began to glow with a greater degree of light. The shapes of the metal casement windows traced a path across the cool plaster walls of the room. Johnny woke up and ran out for coffee. I stayed in the house and watched the frazzled families outside rushing back and forth from play-dates and appointments.
So much of what I have experienced in Greenbelt “One-night Stand” felt “romantically iconic” in its manifestation. From the standardized house and room size, the specially designed and scaled furniture, the type of families desired, the circulation patterns of the site (separation of vehicular and pedestrian circulation), the green Arcadian landscape, the available community amenities, acceptance of various religious traditions, all the way to the “anti-nuisance” behavioral codes found in the “Greenbelt Owner’s Manual”. It seems to me that this place was much more than an isolated pilot housing project. So much of what it projected appears romanticized as the classic American small town environment as well as what would eventually become the definition of the “Nuclear American Family”.
The immediate 1950’s suburban stereotype of the American family as a Father, Mother, and child (possibly two) seems to have its origins in federally-funded and designed communities such as Greenbelt. Much of the American political debate that I was listening to on YouTube can find a place in Greenbelt culture. The institutionalized exclusionary racism, the hyper-sensitivity to large immigrant families, and the limited flexibility for hybrid family structures.
As comfortable as the Greenbelt House was for my partner Johnny and me, it does seem powerful to understand that we would not have been allowed to become “Greenbelters”. Our inclusion in the Greenbelt mythology of existence would have had to be a suppressed reality. The complexities of my “modern Family” in no way would have fit into the pre-conceived image of this 1937 planned community (not the size, nor the social complexion). Now, I am also aware that a same-sex family unit wouldn’t have been accepted anywhere in the United States of America at that time, but it does occur to me that we are still feeling the residual inertia of these types of contractual, regulated social constructs. In fact, the 1952 Greenbelt community code defined a ‘family” as a traditional-married man and woman. It wasn’t until 1981 (PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MARYLAND v. GREENBELT HOMES, INC.), that Greenbelt’s exclusionary community code was overturned and unmarried couples could live in Greenbelt.
What seems like a more fundamental realization for me, is how shared and universal family relationships can be: Friendship, Marriage, Divorce, Birth, Job, and Death. These are the things that family is made up of, and we all are making history simply by living our truth and engaging in the wider world as loving, empathetic people. As conscious individuals, we learn and change throughout our lives and become more nuanced in how we deal with others and how we allow others to affect ourselves. As I sat in the living room of the house, I felt a connection to the moving path of the sun on the walls. Much like the sun traveling along the wall that morning, my physical existence is the shadow that documents my life path. It is transient and fleeting, and my understanding of the world has never remained static.
In getting in the car, and packing our tomatoes we bought at the farm stand on our way to Greenbelt, I wondered if those who designed and implemented Greenbelt held hopes for it to become a catalyst for social change? Or did they think that American society would remain static and designed Greenbelt to fit like a glove rather than a mitten? Did they embrace the potential for evolution of the American Family into one that looks like mine, or were they coding a society that would permanently exclude the “undesirables”? Perhaps they, inadvertently, targeted a stereotype of a family structure that, in reality, never fully existed.
Could it also be possible that this a genesis of the silo-ing of American social functions and urban forms, as well as the sanitizing of complex and messy family systems? The results of which gave us the equalized, suburban “tiny boxes” of which the 1962 Malvina Reynolds song “Little Boxes” refers, and the eventual world of LEARNING FROM LAS VEGAS & Levittown. It becomes the start of a slow process of detangling the complex urban morphology & social connections into discrete and isolated entities. This change in the landscape also affected an isolating quality on American society.
A lot of our present political discussion is focused on the “disintegration” of the American family. It seems to me that the real disintegration of the family, if it is, in fact, a real disintegration, occurred when large, extended, messy family conglomerate units were pulled apart (either by community codes like at Greenbelt, or out of economics) and we began to see the fundamental structure of our communities as the dad/mom & child rather than the larger relationships of Grandparents/Aunts/Uncles & Cousins. This re-structuring seems to also have a dramatic effect on the built environment. True, Greenbelt was made up of attached housing units (very few were detached), however – the eventual flow toward suburbanization spearheaded the complete isolation of single family dwellings and its beginnings can be seen in the concept of a planned community such as Greenbelt. Even though Greenbelt was primarily attached dwellings, it nonetheless disentangled the messy relationships of urban interactions in exchange for expected homogeneity. Some scholars believe that planned communities, which isolate similar populations into a contained unit, are a catalyst for the “Walling of the American Mind”.
Maybe the family that they perceived as healthy, safe, and stable, was a cherry-picking – an amalgam of various parts of the actual American family experience – just as in the planning of Greenbelt, we as a culture suppress the visible flaws and mess. Maybe the American family was always as complicated as mine, and in order to survive, they reconfigured themselves into the ideal of a Greenbelt family? Maybe they knew, just as Thornton Wilder explained in his 1939 Pulitzer-prize-winning play OUR TOWN, that everyday existence has always been far more complicated (and ignored) than we all acknowledge, and in creating the Greenbelt community, perhaps, it was that everyday living that the planners were trying to simplify & help out with – and the redefining of the American family was a byproduct?
As Johnny and I were driving back home, I got a text from another of my daughters. You guessed it – group text, and it ended with an “XO”. Just like Lenore Thomas Straus Greenbelt Public Plaza sculpture depicts a mother giving a glass of water to her child, and just like our tomatoes, everyone needs a little special care now and then while traveling.
In any case, as Wilder ends OUR TOWN:
“ Hm…Eleven o’clock in Grover’s Corners. – You get a good rest, too. Good Night”
Megan Searing Young (Executive Director of the Greenbelt Museum and Historic House) for allowing me to experience this important site. I also want to thank her for her consistent help with research, images, and advice (not to mention the great lunch!).
Elon Cook, (Program Manager and Curator at the Center for Reconciliation, and Humanities Director at The Robbins Historic House) for assisting in research relative to planned communities and the African-American legacy.
Jennifer Ruffner & Sheila Maffay-Tuthill for the great 1939 dinner and engaging conversation.
John Yeagley, Twisted Preservation, Research. for doing this crazy thing I call “One-Night Stand” and not complaining about it.
My Family for allowing me to tell the world about our texts and Snap Chats. XO