I just came in from walking. We're having an early spring here in East Tennessee with warm rains. Spent pussy willows litter the driveway. The forsythia is coming out along the bank and in the woods behind the house. The sunny daffodils, violet periwinkle, crocuses and Lenten roses, both white and bloody red, bloom under the trees. And next to the mail box at 122, I noticed a cluster of purple hyacinths. Other than bird song and peepers, it's quiet on the ridge.
I saw three trucks and three cars on West Outer Drive while I walked. More than usual. On many mornings, I see no more than one or two cars pass in the 45 minutes or so I walk. Seldom do I see any sign of life in any of the houses either. Many of the residents in my neighborhood are elderly. At 65, I'm elderly too, but most of my neighbors are considerably older than I, in their eighties.
The other day, while I was walking, I started counting up the number of people who have died on Wendover Circle (and its two short side lanes) since Bob and I moved back here. I counted twenty two. A few others have moved to nursing homes or assisted living. Several of the houses are empty.
We moved back to Wendover Cr. after my husband's Mother died twenty years ago. Yes, this peaceful little house in West Hills, down the long drive way and nestled in the woods, is where my husband and his late brother grew up.
The West Hills houses were built in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, when everything was go-go in Oak Ridge. Back then, Oak Ridge was economically vibrant, full of young families. It's not anymore.
The old K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant, the biggest building under one roof in the world, has been dismantled. And though business is still go-go at the Y-12 thermonuclear weapons plant and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, few of the people who work at either live in Oak Ridge. Every week day, between 4:00 and 5:30 p.m., thousands of cars crawl, bumper to bumper, out of Oak Ridge, back home to West Knoxville, Farragut, Hardin Valley, Karns, and other distant communities.
As a town, we are struggling, I think, to re-define ourselves. Once upon a time, Oak Ridge was an exclusive and privileged little federal enclave of well paid scientists and engineers. At this writing, more than half of our public school children qualify, under federal poverty guidelines, for the free school lunch program.
Likewise, a town that used to be overwhelmingly made up of home owners is now largely comprised of renters in deteriorating housing stock. Yet, there are a plethora of McMansions scattered along Whipporwill, Chestnut Ridge, Briarcliff and the rarified air above the marina.
It's my observation that Oak Ridge is increasingly a town made up of two classes of people: the haves (the top tier feeding at the lucrative federal trough) and the have nots.
Will the current construction of our new Main Street Oak Ridge significantly impact the economic and social divide? We shall see.