Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tasty Acres

Tasty Acres 45, 2008

When I was a kid the seaside town where I was born had about 7,000 people. There were said to be more pigs in the surrounding county than there were people. In 1963 the town and the county merged to create a city that is today home to almost half a million people.

Needless to say, when an area has that kind of growth a lot of things change. Nostalgia being the stock and trade of age, a lot of us have fond memories of how things used to be. Like how storms used to unearth Nineteen Century shipwrecks on the beach or how you could have an evening cookout on the beach without being hassled about the fire. Or how you could drive down into the county and probably not see more than one or two people (to whom you were, in all likelihood, related) all the way down to the salt marshes along the North Carolina border.

The city experienced growth during the 1970s at a nearly exponential rate, so fast that they couldn’t come up with new street names that hadn’t been used before. It was joked that every homebuilder’s wife, daughter, mother, aunt and secretary had a street named for her.

While I was off at college and away starting my career thereafter, the formerly rural county of my ancestors was overrun by residential subdivisions. The big pig growing operation was replaced by thousands of homes, streets, lanes, cul de sacs, schools, shopping centers, office parks, hospitals and all the other signs of suburban sprawl. The old trees, barns, farmhouses and family cemeteries that used to be directional landmarks were replaced with convenience stores. Heck, even the old roads were moved, straightened, widened and eventually replaced with divided parkways. Old crossroads that used to be named for the families whose farms they passed now had four lanes of traffic in each direction. The intersection of Withduck Road and Virginia Beach Boulevard, where I got my first dog from some gypsies who lived in the woods, was once known as Chinese Corner. The Kempsville intersection where one of my great uncles once owned a grocery store and filling station, and where even in my youth there were still original Eighteenth Century raised houses located on the opposite corners, has been enlarged so much that were they still standing all of those original buildings would be sitting almost directly under the network of stoplights that control traffic at that intersection today.

But enough of that. Times and places change. We must, too.

During the first real estate boom of the 1960s, most new homes were built with brick. But over time it became cheaper to clad houses with vinyl siding. Some builders chose to fill entire subdivisions with houses all within the same narrow beige or pale yellow palette. My wife and I used to joke that these neighborhoods—we lived in one ourselves for a while—looked just like Tasty Acres, the fictitious Southern California neighborhood where Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty lived in The Incredible Shrinking Woman or where Dianne Wiest lived in Edward Scissorhands.

Tasty Acres 35, 2008

Every now and then I drive down through the “county” to check out old landmarks and see what’s changed. A year or so ago I was surprised to find that despite the collapse of the housing boom work was proceeding on the conversion of a large former borrow pit into a residential subdivision. I haven’t been back there in a while, and I’ll admit that its builders were brave enough to embrace a few bolder colors. But it still had all the markings of a classic Tasty Acres, all bright and shiny and, as those little paper ribbons they used to put on motel toilets said, “Sanitized for your protection.”

Tasty Acres 45, 2008

Tasty Acres 38, 2008


  1. Tasty Acres is classic. Your description is perfect. Reminds me of Fahrenheit 451.

  2. Returning home after my first hitch in the USAF was a shock for me. The building boom was just incredible!