There are two places I consider hallowed ground when I think about my mother, the late Mary Bird Kennedy.
Both revolve around food in one form or another. One, sadly, is gone but the other will be here forever.
Every Mother’s Day, we pack up a picnic lunch and go to the Duck Pond in the heart of Buckhead’s Peachtree Heights East neighborhood. We lay out a large blanket, defend ourselves from the overly curious and hungry waterfowl and enjoy lunch in one of the most beautiful parks in Atlanta.
And every year, the park is brimming with baby chicks waddling after their mothers.
We do this because for much of my childhood, it was where my mother took us to eat lunch and play. It was our park. It was the closest one to our home on West Wesley Road, which was on the other side of Peachtree Road.
It may have been walkable, but “walkable” wasn’t in my mother’s vocabulary.
At least once a week, she would take my brothers and me to Henri’s Bakery, grab sandwiches, drinks and chocolate eclairs and go to the Duck Pond.
There wasn’t a playground, nor is there one now. It was up to us to play and explore as Mom watched. There was, however, a large, fallen tree that was hollowed out and opened up along the side. It was perfect for climbing and pretending.
We’d also feed the ducks our bread crusts. I mention this as a subtle segue to an important mea culpa and public service announcement: Don’t feed the wildlife.
We always fed the ducks when we were little. There was even a bag filled with bread heels for just such occasions.
Back then the ducks seemed grateful. They’d wade over, stay in the water and stab the tossed bread pieces with their beaks.
Now, though, they seem to expect it and they can be a little overzealous. We’ve had bold birds climb all the way into our picnic bag, with just the top of their tail feathers sticking out. I’m sure there are other reasons you shouldn’t feed them – there are signs posted all over saying the same.
The Duck Pond will be there forever because of the residents of Peachtree Heights East. Eretus Rivers, the man responsible for the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood I grew up in on the other side of Peachtree, was also the developer of Peachtree Heights East. This may get a big confusing, so I apologize in advance.
Through the Peachtree Heights Co., Rivers and his partners purchased several large tracts of land in Buckhead in the early 1900s.
Peachtree Heights Park, which is on the western side of Peachtree, was started in 1910. It is known today as Peachtree Heights West and has the namesake Rivers Road.
Peachtree Heights East, on the east side of Peachtree, dates back to 1908. By 1913, it had 20 homes before World War I interrupted the development. By 1928, though, it had increased to 175.
In Peachtree Heights West, Rivers hired a prominent architecture firm to lay out the neighborhood. Linear parks along West Wesley and Vernon roads were purposefully integrated into the design. I imagine the same idea was at the heart of what became the 7-plus acres of parks at the heart of Peachtree Heights East.
According to the neighborhood website, that may be, but it was the residents living there who are credited with creating the “lake” in 1922.
In 1932, after Rivers’ death, his wife deeded the 7.35 acres to be held in trust for perpetuity for the benefit of the neighborhood. To this day, it is the neighborhood that does all of the incredible work around it, most recently repairing the walls of the pond and creating a small dock.
To them, we are thankful. We don’t live nearby, but like many, we make the special trip, because it is a special place with many special memories.
For a little perspective, the other place my mother and I used to frequent was Hastings Nursery on Lindbergh Drive, which always required a stop at the drive-in at the Varsity Junior.
The old Varsity Junior is now a storage facility, and that gorgeous, sprawling hillside nursery has been replaced with a less-than-gorgeous, sprawling strip mall.