Tuesday, 25 March 2008
This Old House
I've moved a lot in my lifetime. Actually, I moved 16 times between the ages of 15 and 32. Before 15 I lived in the same house. After 32 I've moved twice.
Some of these moves were during college years, to various apartments and dorms with various roommates.
Only a few of these homes or places to lay my head at night stand out in my mind now.
One of course was my childhood home, a ranch-style Florida house built in the 50s on land reclaimed from McKay Bay. It wasn't particularly remarkable architecturally or design wise. But when I was young I loved it. On one side till I was about 7 was a vacant lot where all the neighborhood kids would play baseball. On the other side were our long-time neighbors, a Cuban/Spanish couple and their three children.
In 1965 my parents renovated our three-bedroom home to create a fourth bedroom out of what was the carport. The carport was moved to the back, to keep my dad's boat company. What back yard there had been was obliterated by this decision. Why a couple with three kids would get rid of their back yard is beyond me. But that's my parents for you. Before that, my dad had built a fort for my brother in the back yard. The neighborhood kids liked to come over and jump off the roof. One, a particularly obnoxious piece of work, broke his ankle and my dad had to drive him the half block home.
If I had been born 5 or 10 years earlier, I would have had my pick of playmates in the neighborhood. There were loads of kids my brother's and sister's ages, but only one boy down the street was my age. He'd moved over from Cuba with his three sisters and parents. He was the youngest and the only boy in his family and I hated his guts. I don't think he liked me too much either, particularly after I got him in trouble when I sprayed with the hose a couple driving past in their convertible MG. I ran inside and he got the blame.
My parents' best friends lived across the street from us for a while. They had an adopted son who was the most popular boy in the neighborhood. He died tragically when he fell from a horse. His parents moved to an apartment after that and used to have me stay for weekends. I hoped they'd adopt me but instead they adopted another little girl. A couple with a handicapped child moved in after that. He was a captain in the Air Force and away in Viet Nam a lot. He scared me to bits because he threatened to kill my cat.
At the end of our road was Mrs. B's house. She had a Lassie dog named Duke that she used to take for a walk past our house each evening after supper. She usually was accompanied by Nana, our babysitter, and her poodle. Nana lived across from Mrs. B with her daughter, a divorcee, and her two grandsons. Once one of the grandsons babysat me. I remember running my fingers through his Brylcreemed hair.
Next door to Nana lived Mr. R. and his second wife, their daughter, and their poodle named Pierre, who would never come inside when called. Their daughter also babysat me from time to time. She always had candy in her purse, which she would share with my brother and me. Her hair was naturally frizzy but I remember she used to iron it to straighten it. Mr. R. and his three children (two from the first marriage) all had first names beginning with R.
Behind us lived another divorced mother with four wayward teen-agers. The house and the kids always looked unkempt, and I think that house saw a lot of hard times. Maybe our neighborhood was ahead of the times, but it seemed there were a lot of single moms living there. Another woman down the block also was divorced. All the local dads were tcared to death of her. Although at the time I didn't quite understand why, I knew her purple bedroom had something to do with it.
A retired couple built a house on the vacant lot next door when I was 7. I thought it was the most beautiful house with the most beautiful garden. When they were out, I used to sneak through the hedge just to look at the flowers. I remember pansies of all colors and a brick path but not much else.
My world was a happy and content one till I was 7. The weekly highlights were fried chicken on Sundays and the ice cream man at 6 p.m. during the summer. I'm trying to remember a room or corner that was my favorite in that house, but I don't think I had one. But so much was just familiar. I knew every inch of the lawn and where I could walk barefoot and not get sandspurs stuck in my feet. We had a gravel driveway and I could tell what kind of mood my dad was in by the way he drove in. Slow and steady meant he was feeling mellow. Fast and sharp meant get out of his way. My mother never ever figured this out.
This house saw a family fall apart, drip by drip at first, then a steady trickle, and then a final flood that washed away what remained. I moved out when I was 15 after my mother attempted suicide one time too many. Although I visited at weekends and my sister and her husband and child moved in, my mother couldn't stand the memories. Her sister persuaded her to move to California so she sold the house at a loss and had a garage sale to get rid of more memories. Our neighbors, the Cuban/Spanish couple and their three children, swooped like vultures on the remnants of our family life, buying my dad's pink martini glasses, my parents' linen tablecloths and candle holders that had been wedding presents, and some of my old books and toys. I refused to emerge from the house during this rape of my childhood.
For many, many years, I couldn't bear to go back, but last summer I did. With my husband and two children in the car, I showed them my childhood. The house has changed greatly. Some owners along the way added another story, rendering it unrecognizable.
I was glad.