My best friend in the neighborhood, Steve Helton, and I stand in the Dhahran alleyway off Third Street passing by my house, circa 1955.
4491-B. Our house.
Ours was one among 12 identical and nondescript single-story dwellings in two linear strings of six duplexes each directly facing each other in our immediate neighborhood, like opposing armies in a battlefield diagram.
Confusingly, our so-called “back” yards were tiny and faced one another across a once sand but now asphalt-paved alleyway, our neighborhood’s primary social thoroughfare. The opposite “front” yards, much larger and enclosed by high walls, faced the front walls of another string of duplexes on the other side of a concrete walkway.
I have no idea who determined which were “front” and which “back,” or why. But it always seemed to me that the entrance you most used should be the “front,” and the entrance less used the “back.” But logic wasn’t part of it, apparently.
Nonetheless, many of my most vivid childhood memories involve that house and that alleyway.
Each house was roofed in colorless corrugated steel and clad in faint gray-green siding, with a tiny hedge-lined yard opening to the alley and a larger, private space on the opposite side of the house that opened onto a sidewalk.
The larger yard covered about 900 square feet and was surrounded by seven-foot cement- block walls that converged on an enclosed, wood-slatted entry atrium with a fifteen-foot-tall roof and patio access up several steps. Like high-walled traditional Saudi dwellings that frustrated prying eyes, our backyard sanctuaries assured a measure of privacy.
The neighborhood’s shady, oasis-like “front” patios attracted an unending series of impromptu parties. The net effect: a nearly continuous twinkling of laughter throughout the neighborhood in late afternoon and early evening.