I live in a Buckhead neighborhood defined by elite private schools, with Trinity bordering the north, Pace to the east, Lovett to the west and Atlanta Girls' School to the south.

Nearby are the Houston's, OK Cafe and Blue Ridge Grill. There are medical offices, a wine shop and two grocery stores. The houses around us are large and impressive, designed by folks who put their names on signs in the front yards while they are being built or renovated.

Kennedy, Thornton rgb

Thornton Kennedy

I was born at Piedmont Hospital before it morphed into an 11-hospital health system. I grew up about a block away from Jesus Junction, the intersection of East Wesley and Peachtree roads, occupied by three massive Christian churches of differing denominations.

Back then two-story apartment buildings with little to no landscaping dotted the major thoroughfares. Car dealerships, their inventory draped with pennant strings, lined Peachtree. Businesses hawked hardware, stereos, bicycles and used records and tapes.

MARTA buses rumbled by regularly, carrying the individuals who worked in the neighborhoods as maids, cooks and nannies. There were strip clubs, X-rated movie theaters and enough dive bars to keep the drunks sauced for eternity.

Dinners out were at the Grand China, where Mrs. Chen greeted every family as if they were longtime customers, always stopping by the table later to ask, "How are your grades?"

The sizzling rice soup was my favorite.

Lunches were at the Varsity Jr. on Lindbergh Avenue. We sat in the car, a window three-fourths rolled down so the paper-hatted server could rest the tray on it. The pigeons stalked the ground, waiting for the rest of the greasy fries or the last bite of hot dog to be tossed on the ground.

When I was a young kid running around Buckhead, I could be found down in the creeks most days. Beneath the Peachtree Creek overpass south of the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center was a small village of cardboard boxes.

We knew the individuals who lived there, not “we” the Kennedys, but “we” the neighborhood kids, who frequently explored the nooks and crannies and were fascinated by those living under the bridge.

Nearby were Peaches Records and Tapes and Turtle’s Records and Tapes. At King’s Drugs you could use your name to buy a balsa wood airplane to fly in the field behind E. Rivers Elementary School.

My wife and I raised our children in Buckhead. They've seen the world out of the window of a car, shuttled from playground to playground, to friends' houses for play dates and occasional trips to restaurants or the grocery store. It is different from my friends and I riding our BMX bikes up and down Peachtree or taking MARTA to the mall.

We sent them to private schools, but that was because of our unfair assessment of the local elementary school in the neighborhood at the time.

Whenever an article appears in the national press about Buckhead, writers use words like “exclusive,” “swanky” or “upscale.”

But that's not the community I know.

I know the old Buckhead Pool Hall, with Gene Loudermilk and his wife behind the counter. You could place a bet on the Georgia Dawgs and get a greasy hamburger and fries and Budweiser for under $10, depending on how much you wanted to put down on the game.

I know Oxford Books, where books filled the open, two-story space from floor to ceiling, even stacked at the end of the aisles. There were tattered, used books and several shelves with the latest comic books. The Cup and Chaucer coffee shop in the loft was something out of a university town.

We raised our children modestly, save the private school. They know picnics at the Duck Pond. They know the Wender & Roberts pharmacy, with its carpet and wood paneling, and getting a haircut at Thomas (Tommy's) Barber Shop, the antithesis of upscale, and proudly so.

They’ve taken MARTA downtown for events and to the airport.

I often think about the residents who haven’t spent most of their lives here, who have a completely different understanding of what Buckhead is and is not. They know the four-star hotels, the high-end restaurants, the elite prep schools and the too-big houses, but they don't remember the Morrison's Cafeteria on Peachtree or the dilapidated apartments.

When I want to connect with old Buckhead, I go to Five Paces Inn, the bar on Irby Avenue, same as it ever was, or grab lunch nearby at Henri's, which is in a newer location, but the sandwiches are basically the same.

I skip the made-to-order line and grab a wax-wrapped turkey on white off the shelf, as I have for as long as I can remember.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at thornton@prsouth.net.


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