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Subtle signs of decay easy to miss

By: Liz Kellar
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When you spend every day with a loved one, you don’t see the subtle changes that take place as time passes. I know I often don’t realize how much my son has grown until I check his height against the penciled marks we have made over the years on the doorway of his room. So, too, the neighborhood you live in can change so gradually that it isn’t until something takes you outside that four-block radius that you take a new look. Nearly three years ago, my husband Tom and I returned to the little granny unit on his parents’ property that we lived in when we first got married, more than 15 years ago. This is the neighborhood that Tom spent his formative years – and by all accounts, those were the halcyon days of old town Lincoln. There are many grownups in this town who still remember the merry band of kids who ran happily through every house on those short blocks near Gladding, McBean. Sure, those kids got into all sorts of trouble – apparently Tom always was the ringleader – but these were the type of hijinks that make everyone laugh fondly, not shudder in fear. Over the years, many of those kids grew up and moved away – and quite a few of those homes became rentals that catered to lower-income laborers. But still, the tenants were families struggling to make their way and everyone seemed to get along. I am not sure when everything started to reach a tipping point. As the duplexes on E Street that face the pottery grew older and shabbier, the tenants also became progressively poorer. For a long time, though, our only complaint was the occasional loud party that extended into the wee hours of the night. Earlier this year, four of the five duplexes on that short block went into foreclosure and all the tenants were evicted. At first, we joked that we had finally found an upside to foreclosure. The neighborhood had never been quieter. But soon enough, those vacant duplexes seemed to signal some sort of lawlessness. Squatters broke in and started sleeping in the abandoned houses. The once-proud Victorian at the far end of the street, despite attempts to board it up, became the target of vandals who broke every window and covered the building inside and out with gang graffiti. Everything came to a head two weeks ago when the police ended up arresting a juvenile who was standing on the street in front of the duplex on the corner with a sawed-off shotgun. His gun had not been fired; he claimed he had gone home to retrieve a weapon because someone was chasing him. The police did not find anyone else with a weapon or any evidence that a handgun had been fired in the area. “We think there is more to this story than meets the eye, but he’s not telling us a whole lot,” Lincoln Police Lt. Terry Kennedy said. Later, police told us they suspected the incident was gang-related. My stepson, when he heard about the arrest, told us he and a friend had been walking home a week earlier when a group of men standing outside that duplex challenged them, telling them, “This is our block.” Their block? My in-laws have lived on that street for 40-some years. It makes me sad and angry that this has happened to their home, to their neighborhood. I know the police have been doing their best, especially in recent weeks. They have applied quite a bit of pressure to the people hanging out at the duplex in question and it has been very quiet there lately. They are working with code enforcement to evict any squatters and to clean up the tagging. But just last night, my stepson and son were hanging out in the driveway watching the latest episode involving angry, drunk people screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs. Not exactly the “Leave It To Beaver” neighborhood of my husband’s youth. It is so easy to miss the warning signs. To become complacent until it is too late. It’s easy to not want to get involved or even to make fun of “busybodies.” Now, I wish I had done more, that I had been more nosy, made more noise.