What if the Monon and Her Neighbor Could Meet
Musician and Lexington, Kentucky native Chase Waller came to Indy this summer for a 48-Hour Singer-Songwriter Residency. He learned about the Monon16 area and its history and wrote and recorded “What if the Monon and Her Neighbor Could Meet” in response. Below, in his words, are some of the thoughts behind the song.
The first stanza refers to the old Martindale-Brightwood area. Predominantly African Americans and immigrants would work the factories and the railroad. The note about the firemen is a reference to two fire stations in Brightwood called "Wide-a-Wake" and "Alerts" (according to the Indianapolis historical website). The final line notes the multitude of churches in the neighborhood, keeping the proverbial candle lit for its minority demographic.
The second stanza is a more specific reference to a particular father in the region, Father Strange. He was priest of St. Rita's, and pushed for social change in the community. He also hosted a sports league (hence the boxing) for kids in the area. The reference to Jesus' blood and the feeding of sheep note his mission to provide for the children of the neighborhood, knowing that the task was sacrificial and certainly a hard one. I find it interesting that the church he came to was that of St. Rita. St. Rita was a widow, and so it seems poetic to me that Father Strange did his work in the name of a widow (Scripture commands one to care for the widow and the orphan, which it seems Father Strange did).
The schools and the churches, as we heard from Miss Terri (a long time resident), were the social hubs for the kids of the neighborhood. They would walk to and from these locations together, most likely stopping by Polk Sanitary Dairy for a glass bottle of milk. Integration was one of the goals of most churches and schools in the area, hence the note of black and white children growing their minds together. The final line notes the end of this sense of unity as the interstate divided the area, forcing many out of their homes.
As everyone knows, gentrification has winners and losers, which is the focus of this last stanza. We move away from the history of the area and look toward the future. The rows of cotton note the story Miss Terri told us about her neighbor. It fascinated me that it was such a big deal he had cotton. The crop was a symbol of slavery for many, but it was an exotic abnormality for the kids of the area, who had never seen it. This echo of segregation reminded me of the importance of story and identity in moving forward.
The last line is my hope (as I am sure is the hope of many others) that this story will not be forgotten as the area develops and gentrifies. Rather than the process segregating the area, or making it more white, I hope that it can be a celebration of the rich history of the area and a maintaining of its hopeful and joyful identity.
The train whistled louder than the factory crowd
Inside the building flooded with sound.
The firemen were alert and wide awake.
A church candle flickered in the window even though it is late.
Father Strange supervised boxing and said
"Here you will bleed as Jesus has bled."
On Sunday he pleaded "Please feed my sheep"
St. Rita sighed-- her widowed face in his eyes in his dreams.
A corner school housed the neighborhood kids
With their glass milk bottles absent from their lids.
Black skin and white skin, sound body and mind,
Their eyes went blind in the onrush of headlights.
The prices were lowered and we saw who lost
A small row of cotton-- an exotic crop.
But crosses and weeds and the busy street
Make me wonder what if the Monon and her neighbor could meet.