Raising Richmond: On raising a Richmonder

Raising a child in the same neighborhood where I grew up has made me think about how much of my childhood in Richmond I want to replicate and what things I’d gladly skip.

When I moved from Southside Richmond to Midlothian the summer before I started fifth grade, I made a promise to myself that I would buy the house I grew up in.

I didn’t.

I did, however, end up in the same zip code (other promises made by my nine-year-old self that went broken: I did not marry Donnie Wahlberg and I own zero pandas. Sorry, Little Kelly).

I grew up/currently live in Southside Richmond. Raising a child in the same neighborhood where I grew up has made me think about how much of my childhood in Richmond I want to replicate and what things I’d gladly skip.

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When I was a kid my mom volunteered at Maymont, so my siblings and I got to do some behind-the-scenes things (I can’t remember that much, but they seemed to mostly involve catching or feeding fish). I thought it was awesome, and it made me feel special to have that connection, which I still feel when I visit. I can’t tell anyone who knows the place anything they don’t already love about Maymont, but Maymont is involved in my oldest and most recent memories, and has been a place where I have had a good visit in all stages of my life. My almost three-year-old daughter enjoys it, though she is sometimes more into the things she can climb than the things she can see.

Very Big Events

I have shopped, worked, and lived blocks away from Carytown. I am very fond of it and hope that it continues to thrive and remains someplace I want to spend time. However, I can’t imagine wanting to attend another Watermelon Festival. My parents (who no longer live in Richmond) were pro-big city events. Back in the 80s and 90s we didn’t have more festivals than days in the year like we do now, so going to Easter on Parade, the Carytown Watermelon Festival, and the Richmond Greek Festival was a special event. Those big stands with illustrations of gyros and lemons and greasy food on them give me happy memories of the times my dad would buy a cup of fries and a giant lemonade and we’d sit down to share and watch everyone walk by. I would rather have the memories than the plans to go again. The last time I attended a Watermelon Festival was five years ago (with my dad) but we didn’t buy anything or want to buy anything, and every stand and store was too crowded. It was too big, which is great overall, but not for me. If my daughter wants to go to a classic Richmond festival like that, I might have get Grandpa to take her.

Free rainbow cookie at Martin’s

My daughter is probably going to feel betrayed that she has gone to Martin’s with me at least 150 times (and that figure is probably true) and I have never let her take advantage of the free rainbow cookie. I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom at Ukrop’s, and even as a shy child I had no problem loitering at the bakery counter until someone gave me a cookie. It’s a sweet tradition that Martin’s has kept for us, but I would rather keep her happy while I shop by visiting the lobsters and talking about all the balloons than let her eat hundreds of cookies (also: she’s going to feel so betrayed when she learns that those balloons are available for purchase).

Southern Pride

My child is second generation Richmond, and is as Richmond as Richmond can be, which means she sleeps on a bed of Ukrop’s White House rolls and doesn’t understand how to properly stop at intersections when the traffic lights are out. But I don’t consider myself or her as “Southern.” I’m Southern only by the grace of DuPont moving my grandfather (and my dad with him) to the Richmond area, which led to my parents meeting at VCU. Three of my daughter’s four grandparents grew up in New York (save my mom, who is from West Virginia, which is its own thing), and my husband is also not from here–to which he attributes his dislike of the previously mentioned White House rolls.

I never wanted to be considered as a Southerner. Moving to Chesterfield was a cultural shift; everyone had Southern accents in Chesterfield County, which puzzled me, since my middle school and high schools were only about 20 minutes from my elementary schools in a different district. Somewhere in my mid-20s I realized that I liked Richmond and was happy to call it home, and enjoyed that I lived in a region that did biscuits better than anywhere else.

I like to live in a place that is rich with history, but we work for the weekends coming up, not for the centuries behind us. And I will leave it to my child to determine where those Southern roots go for her.

Local eats

When I was younger my family frequented local restaurants on a regular basis and reserved chains for special occasions (which is why I sometimes want unlimited breadsticks and salad on my birthday). While the places where I ate back then aren’t places I go to anymore, my daughter will grow up and have the good memories of Galley, Dots Back Inn, [Kuba Kuba]k], and Alamo BBQ that I have for Golden Skillet, Liberty Valance (had, anyway), and all the pizza places we used to love but aren’t around anymore (Lefty’s in Stratford Hills, Pizza Den in Chesterfield). FYI: I think my parents used Golden Skillet on Jahnke Road as a daycare center based on the amount of time we spent there as children. I recently went there with my Dad, who hadn’t been there in almost 15 years, and the woman at the counter still recognized him and remembered us kids.

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I look forward to sharing some other favorite things in the coming years with my kid, like her first movie at the Byrd, putting her head in that fruit plate at the Science Museum of Virginia, and, heck, even crowded things like the Grand Illumination and the Christmas Parade. And I hope she discovers things that are new to us all and has associations that aren’t mixed in with my feedback on how it used to be. But she’s got me beat on one thing: She loves Nutzy more than I ever liked the Diamond Duck.

Photo by: Dougtone

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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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