Where I Live: Castle Hills

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Amy Stengel stands in her favorite room in her house, filled with books and artwork from her two sons.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Amy Stengel stands in her favorite room in her house, filled with books and artwork from her two sons.

I live in a home built in the late 1950s in Castle Hills – an old ranch style home, open and lit with giant windows all around. It’s full of natural light, wood and tile, brick and glass, and I love it. It is the home of three rescued and wily dogs and two almost grown athletic boys who like to bring their friends over for games of baseball and basketball.

Handles of doors are loose or missing due to swinging children and fast grips when going in and out. Tiles are broken due to unlawful skateboards, basketballs, and baseballs. The original windows in the corners of rooms are cracked. Furniture is dusty and eclectic, gathered from family and friends, thrift stores and garage sales, offered as gifts, and found treasures.

The Castle Hills neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue.

Illustration / Rivard Report - Google Maps

The Castle Hills neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue.

It sounds much worse than it is. It is a home full of laughter. The giant yard is great for barbecues, late-night campfires, and playing with dogs that can run at full speed.

The laundry list of house repairs, which can be quite disconcerting to a single parent, falls away with the joy of spying on raccoons and foxes, up to seven deer in the mornings, a giant buck, skunks and owls, hawks, and loose chickens. There is room for a garden to feed hundreds, if only I had the time – and someday I will.

A large bookcase filled with writing book make subtle bows in the shelves.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A large bookcase filled with writing books that make subtle bows in the shelves.

This is where I live. Like most people’s homes, it is messy sometimes. It’s full of books, food, and music, dances with dogs, art projects, and late-night homework. The small 1950s closets spill over with laundry and a few treasured toys. The walls are covered with art by my children, photos of their young faces, travel photographs from friends, and paintings by my mother.

When my sons were small, we could walk to the nearest elementary school. I pulled them in a wagon. In the winter, they filled the wagon with blankets and pillow pets and rode in luxury with hot chocolate in small thermoses. Many days, my friends would join in this coddling caravan of young children.

For a long time, after school, I would take the wagon back full of musical instruments, snacks, a boom box, scripts, and props to direct a children’s musical as a volunteer. Scores of children and parents volunteered their time with elaborate costumes, beautiful sets, programs, and photo books documenting our creative journey with our community of young actors and crew members.

I cannot walk the dogs without thinking back to those days of long hours and late nights, the magical theater events that brought us together and made way for friends I still cherish and love today.

We found this house when my oldest son, now in college, was 3. We bought it because he loved it, because the moment we set foot in the yard he started running and laughing and didn’t stop, and because it was in the center of San Antonio, our city. It was close to work, the hospital for multiple stitches and broken arms, near friends and family, and yet far enough away to hold a yard full of trees, flowers, grass, and gardens.

One neighbor has a horse in his yard. Many have chickens and, because our neighborhood was the closest no-kill zone for the longest time in our city, many people have multiple dogs rescued from late-night abandonment. Castle Hills, by nature, respects its wildlife that blends a parklike atmosphere with a convenient central location.

A rotating spool rack sits at the corner of Amy's house filled with thread and family photographs.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A rotating spool rack sits at the corner of Amy’s house filled with thread and family photographs.

There is a fire station where my sons have played late-night basketball. On a lucky day, a fireman would join them, reminding them to wear bicycle helmets and leaving meaningful impressions for a lifetime.

Around the corner is a police station and the mayor’s office, where the officers and the mayor will lean out their car windows to say “hello” and “how are you today?” It’s where the nicest and most helpful public works director knows everyone, offers advice, says “good morning” and your name, and even knows your pets’ names.

Castle Hill is passionate about its ideas and concerns for this quickly changing community. People know this because our local officials can make the news when their disagreements become fierce. They do care deeply.

We hold outdoor movies and seasonal parties in the center of our city. We celebrate the nearest high school by honoring the baseball teams and the band. Our residential diversity is celebrated by most, though we could do better.

This home survived a broken marriage, cradled the children and the things that belonged to them, wiped the tears of loss, and extended the arms of healing. The memories of joy and laughter – infused in the walls of rooms that held cribs and toy trains, blocks and stuffed bears – reminded my sons about happiness, that it was still there if only they looked around.

At night – after a long work day and high-school lacrosse games or my own play practices – when I drive into our driveway, there is that sense of tranquility we yearn for in the places we live: a longing to be inside, safe, and warm. The lighting looks like candlelight seen through the big plate glass windows from the road. The front door beckons and the windows blink, keeping our house alive, vibrant with laughter and tears, hunger and rest, joy and conflict, and most of all peace.

12 thoughts on “Where I Live: Castle Hills

  1. Great article, Amy! You describe well the sentiments we have about our homes and neighborhoods in San Antonio. I am so grateful we moved here from Houston in 2002. This city offered my family a firm foundation for a life that supports and is active in the community and the arts!! Now we must work, and vote, to keep it that way.

  2. Beautiful, heart felt expression of a home of happiness, reality, love and charm. I always think of peace when I see you, Amy. What a sweet family, living in your heavenly cloud of children, animals, and neighbors! I love getting to share your life on Facebook! Thank you for such wonderful memories. 💞💐

  3. We love getting to know the good people of San Antonio, one by one, though this neighborhood series. Wonderful contribution, Amy. Those bookshelves look just right, as is, don’t touch them. -RR

  4. I enjoyed reading your story. I almost moved to Castle Hills last time I relocated to SA but fate took me to California instead. It’s a wonderful community.

  5. So many families in Castle Hills owe so much to you, Amy. Your smile, your peaceful demeanor, your kind heart and your patience with our children for so many years. So happy you are writing. Hope you continue to share your work with the rest of us.

  6. Amy was my SAT prep and humanities teacher at ISA.

    In her humanities class, she served us green tea and cookies while we studied eastern religion. She taught us about architecture and made an assignment to go to places in San Antonio. My partner and I went to Monte Vista to photograph and write about the historic residential architecture. Since then, I’ve had a strong interest in urban neighborhoods and the importance of historic preservation.

    To say she had a positive impact on me doesn’t seem to do her justice as a first-rate teacher, because she absolutely influenced my passion for a well-rounded liberal arts education.

    Amy’s “Where I Live” commentary captures the complexity, humility, and growth we experience in our adult lives, and she ties it together with the same beautiful heuristic that she brings to her students.

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