Farewell to Cracker Eden

The Oak Cliff of my childhood had broad streets, narrow minds, and God-fearing people. Today it is a mockery of the place I knew.

HISTORY AND LEGEND BIND US to the past, along with unquenchable memory. Growing up in Dallas’ working-class suburb of Oak Cliff in the forties and fifties was the second experience in my life that I never got over. I hadn’t been back to those boyhood haunts in thirty years, and I wasn’t as calm as I thought I’d be about returning. Under a patchy October overcast, the houses along Marsalis Avenue looked beat, maybe even whipped. I had to slow down to read the sign for my old street because all of the landmarks were gone.

When I first saw East Ninth in 1948, the street was a leafy tunnel running past tidy bungalows and well-kept Victorian mansions dating back to the original settlement of the City of Oak Cliff before the turn of the century. Now it was food stamp country—a jungly midden with a Third World flavor. I knew in advance that the house where Spook and I lived had been demolished during the Latino incursion of the seventies, so I eased past its replacement, not ready to look at it yet. I turned south on Patton, and the area changed from merely seedy to wasteland.

At Tenth and Patton, I pulled over in shock. The devastation was total—an entire neighborhood sunk in rot. The surviving houses were vine-choked, boarded up, literally atomizing in a ghastly mocker of the thriving community I recalled. The burned-out hulk of an apartment warren stood on the site where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly killed Officer Tippit after the Kennedy assassination.

Leaving the car, I paced up and down the broken sidewalks, searching in vain for the duplex where my best school pal had lived. The blasted terrain looked as though war and pestilence had swept through, leaving behind only feral silence.

Turning away, still on foot, I started back toward Ninth. Oak Cliff’s soul had changed or maybe died, I couldn’t tell which. And what exactly had been lost? Well,

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