The Heartbeat of a Neighborhood

A Fixture of Poplar Ridge Farms


By Ken Billett

Paul Drake watched our neighborhood like a hawk. Either from his living room window or from an old folding chair in the carport, not much was missed when Paul was on duty.

The daily tally of the comings-and-goings of our neighbors was likely fine-tuned during Paul’s years in the public-school system, first as a guidance counselor and then as an assistant principal. This long-retired former school administrator knew everyone in our neighborhood and knew everything about them. Paul Drake was Google before there was Google.

Like the ubiquitous tech giant, Paul was not only the neighborhood’s eyes and ears, but he was always there when you needed him. Paul dispensed answers and advice, along with the occasional colorful insight. He was both helpful and opinionated. If a neighbor’s car got a flat tire, Paul not only offered to help change the flat, but he’d suggest that Michelins were more reliable than Goodyears.

Our neighborhood, Poplar Ridge Farms, is just on the Memphis side of the Germantown City limits. We live in what I call a pass-through neighborhood – drivers, bicyclists, and runners cut through our neighborhood on their way to somewhere else. This subdivision of 280 homes is bounded by Kirby Parkway to the west, several apartment complexes on the south side, and a wide concrete drainage ditch along the Germantown border. Neshoba Road, running east and west, bisects a portion of the neighborhood.

Poplar Ridge Farms was unknown to most of our friends when we moved here in April 1995. Most people thought we lived in Germantown. In fact, Germantown thought we lived in Germantown. We’d receive the Germantown white pages from the phone company and inside the Commercial Appeal was the weekly supplement for Germantown. A Shelby Sun Times would show up on our driveway even though it was known as a county newspaper.

This municipal ambiguity was not lost on Paul Drake, either.

We’d meet near my mailbox every couple of days. Paul would give me the neighborhood scoop, and I’d nod my head in appreciation. I didn’t really care that the Greenbergs put up a new wood fence or that the woman living in that ugly blue house in the cove was going through a messy divorce. I loved that in this neighborhood my wife and I had found not just a house, but a home, and the feeling of community that went along with it. Paul was that community. Passers-through or not, Paul cared about the neighborhood. He cared about his neighbors.

People create community – that shared set of values, attitudes, and goals. A neighborhood can personify that communal spirit through the actions and attitudes of its members. When you know that your neighbors care then your neighborhood truly becomes your home.

This quiet border town community has been our home for twenty-four years. We’ve spent almost half our lives here. We’ve raised two kids here. We’ve made many friends here, too. Even though folks moved out or moved on, we still know most everyone on our immediate block.

We lost Paul back in 2011, a couple of years after his wife, Anne, had passed away. His children packed up the house and eventually sold it. New neighbors moved in. At some point, they moved on, too.

For me, a small piece of community was lost when Paul died. He was a constant, like a heartbeat. I still love our neighborhood, but now that Paul’s gone, the neighborhood’s heart beats a little softer. <>

Paul Drake, the heartbeat of Ken’s neighborhood.

Ken Billett is a resident of Poplar Ridge Farms – within the Memphis city limits. Ken is a retired school teacher and former corporate benefits manager; he volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame in downtown Memphis, and, when not tending to his flowers, he and his wife Vicki travel extensively.

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