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posted: 3/29/2012 3:00 PM

Arlington Heights' utopian neighborhood recalled

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Our eighteen-year-old granddaughter, Abby, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, recently had lunch with an octogenarian, who lives an hour from Chapel Hill, and her daughter.

Although they had never met before -- had never heard of each other until recently -- she reported that a fine time was had by all. They had so much to talk about.

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All three of them have roots in what they all think of as a mythic time in Arlington Heights, although only two of them had experienced it.

Of course, our granddaughter was not part of that enchanted time which the other two women remember fondly. (Nor was her mother.) But she knows from her aunts and uncles of what they call "our golden childhood," the years they lived in Virginia Terrace, a subdivision bounded by Oakton, Yale, Thomas and Wilkie, in what was in the 1950s the northwest corner of the village.

The builder who designed the area was something of a visionary, although he probably did not realize he was creating an earthly paradise for kids. The small ranch houses were designed loosely like the Usonian homes of Frank Lloyd Wright. They had clerestory windows in the bedrooms and picture windows facing the back of the very generous lots instead of facing the parkways in front. The parkways themselves were generous to protect kids from the street traffic.

In the beginning, the little kids were terrified of the enormous earthmovers still cruising the block as the houses were built on Clarendon to the north.

"We didn't know there were people inside driving them," one of those former kids remembers. "We thought the machines were out to get us."

But soon there were fewer machines and more houses. And more children in the houses as veterans of the recent war applied for GI loans to buy homes for their families.

Instead of the clatter of machines, one heard the clamor of half a hundred children who opened their doors every summer morning to find companions, games and imaginative play in every corner of the block. That block seemed like an endless playground because the builder had decided there would be no fences.

Groups swarmed from yard to yard, trampling the newly sown grass and sometimes picking the newborn tulips. But children were the priority, and little was made of this unfortunate concomitant of childish hordes. In the beginning the oldest was only four, so the world was huge, the possibilities endless, and every venture was an adventure.

Abby remembered hearing tales of Fourth of July parades around the block when the Declaration of Independence was read and flags flown. The octogenarian remembered being rescued by Abby's grandfather from an accident that landed her car in a ditch. Her daughter described a small slide propped up by a wading pool. They basked in the memories.

It wasn't a particularly warm day in Chapel Hill the day of the luncheon, but it felt warm to the three women sharing in the golden light of an Arlington Heights bit of Camelot, in a long ago not yet forgotten.

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