A Community Reunited

(This post represents the written version of a story told orally at the 2018 Muse Conference Friday Salon entitled, Eastside Meets Westside by Casey Crisler Davis, a Bend, OR Native.)

To begin, I’d like to recognize my privilege to get to stand here and tell my story. I have connections to the organizers of this event and I realize not everyone gets this opportunity.

My name is Casey Davis and I am a Bend Native and an eastside resident. As a native, I am often asked the question: How do you feel about the growth and change that Bend had seen? I usually answer with the positives of enjoying more concerts and employment opportunities, but I’ve only recently been able to realize that I have suffered a real loss in Bend’s growth and it is a loss that I unknowingly helped create.

I was at Jackson’s Corner East with my family on a Friday night a couple months back for dinner. It was packed and there was live music. So we asked two women if we could join them at their table and they smiled and said yes. I asked one of them if they lived in the neighborhood and she said she proudly responded yes and that she had lived in Bend for 25 yrs. Her energy softened when I told her I was born at the hospital across the street and she said, “Then you remember when it was just one Bend.” I smiled and nodded and have been pondering that statement ever since.

I do remember Bend as one community. I remember there being class differences, however not so clearcut between west and east. Neighborhoods were inclusive and diverse. I grew up in a westside neighborhood with doctors, firefighters, teachers, coaches, the town undertaker all as neighbors. The income range was wide. I went to Bend High (this was before Summit) and the socioeconomic range was even wider. Many of my closest friends and teammates came from financially-strapped households. Everyone’s parents showed up to games and were supportive of their kids. I’ve learned since then that behind the scenes, parents who could give, including my parents, made sure that everyone had enough.

When I returned to Bend after college and travels, in 2000, Bend had grown and changed significantly. Prices of homes, especially on the westside, were skyrocketing and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to afford ownership. As a twenty something, I had to live on the westside. It was hip, convenient, close to downtown and walkable. I realize now that about that time, I made up a story about the eastside. That it wasn’t hip and walkable, that it was lesser and my brain assigned that label to the people who lived there as well. I even began to believe that living there may not be safe.

Needless to say, I got lost temporarily in the craze of what was desirable and forgot what was real. As friends moved to town, I would tell them to find a place on the westside no matter what. Even if it stretched their budget, it was worth it. By doing this, I unintentionally contributed to the cultural divide and the loss of community that I am now grieving. It was language that kept us separate and has contributed to the unhealthy class divide we see in Bend today.

My journey east began with a decision to foreclose on our westside townhome and start a family. When my son was three months, we moved to a home in Northwest Crossing. After a year and a half, the owner was contemplating selling and raised our rent, so we began to look. In a 1-3% vacancy rental market, you go where you can. A close friend connected us to an available home with low rent and we were grateful. Except, it was on the Eastside. All those stories that lived in my subconscious started to bubble up about safety and the type of people that lived there. But then there was a part of me that began to remember. Remember that income rarely defines the character of a person. And really, you are moving to the eastside of BEND. Get over yourself, you ridiculously fortunate human being!

So in the matter of two years, I had gone from being a westside homeowner to an eastside renter. Ahhhh, titles and our attachment to them. I was choosing to see this as an adventure and soon after we moved in, set out to meet my neighbors armed with pints of fresh Oregon strawberries. A sweet woman in her 80s lived to the north and we exchanged stories about Old Bend. My third grade teacher lived across the street and we still connect with her to arrange playdates with my son. But the neighbors to the north, I had some an anxiety about knocking on their door.

It was a small older home with a wood-burning stove. I had met the teenage son one day in the backyard. He was out with their three dogs, but I hadn’t seen any adults around. The freaky part was, the curtain were always closed 24 hrs a day. When I knocked on the door mid-morning, a man with a furrowed brow and suspicion in his eyes peeked around the curtain. He opened the door, gave me the pointer finger on the lips signal to be quiet, and closed the door behind him.

My fear was standing right in front of me in the form of an unshaven, bathrood-clad middle aged white guy. I nervously introduced myself and handed him the berries.  He excused his appearance and explained that his wife was a night nurse and slept during the day–hence the closed curtains and lack of presence during daylight hours. Sensing that the first impression may have been a bit skewed, she came over on her next day off and introduced herself. We connected over her work and vision of creating a better bridge between midwives and the hospital.

By going on walks, setting up a lending library, garden plots and a bench in the front yard, we began to really connect to the neighborhood. All the stories and fears subsided and I actually began to feel more at home than I did on the westside. The eclectic mix of residents of all ages and backgrounds made conversations diverse and invigorating. It felt like home. I remembered the power of diverse community and connection to people whose lives look different than my own.

We can’t go back to the old Bend, but we can move forward with open eyes and hearts to the separations that we create and ask is it really healthy for our community? My hope is that by sharing my story, I can help to heal the loss of community that I unintentionally helped create with my language. My hope is that we can all explore what a Bend without a divide, even in our minds, might look like.

Thank you.