Friday, October 23, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

Our writing group met today, for the first time in a very long time. It was so good to see everyone again. I really have grown very fond of those three women. Though we don't often write something -- sometimes we do -- the conversation is always fun and the snack aways delicious.

Today one of the women had brought an essay she had written, at her children's request, about what she and her husband had been doing in the years before the first child was born. They were a military family and her husband was a pilot. I grew dizzy trying to keep up with the number of times they moved. It seemed that they moved more in a year than I have in my entire married life, so I decided to examine the places where I have lived.

Here is where my parents were living when I was born and where I lived for the first 18 years of my life.

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This is one of those Google street map pictures. When I lived there, there was no diagonal parking; you had to parallel park (and wasn't THAT fun with a stick shift!). There also were no trees planted on the street when I lived there.

The outlined area is the length of our flat. The windows on the right were in the room that my sister and I shared. There are bars on those windows now and an iron grate on the steps that lead up to the door. It shows you how times have changed since 1943. When I was very young, the landlords lived upstairs in the flat with the door to the right of ours, and the next flat over was occupied by the woman who introduced me to my first boyfriend, and later by my aunt Jean. Between those two flat doors is a light colored door that went into what we laughingly called our "back yard," a square of cement where my mother hung clothes to dry, where we had a teeny plot in which she tried to grow vegetables, where we first learned to roller skate, and back stairs that led up to the other flats, or down into the dirt basement.

There are reports that the man who owned Seabiscuit, who lived in the penthouse of the apartment across the street, would look down into that tiny cement plot, watching my mother, Karen and me and say that was what real happiness was.

I left San Francisco at age 18 when I moved to the dorms at UC Berkley. Some of the dorms had a larger occupancy than my entire high school and I was intimidated by the size, so I chose the smallest one, Smythe Hall, which was at the top of a steep hill and overlooked the campus. It was actually two dorms in one, Smythe and Fernwall and the grad resident in Fernwall was this stern student who didn't seem to like me very much. I was actually afraid of her. Her name was Charlotte--and who knew then that she would end up being one of my best friends for the rest of our lives and share with me most of the craziest things I've ever done in my life.

My first roommate was someone I chose because when we toured the dorm, she was the only other resident there. Her name was Judy and she seemed nice, but she had no roommate, so I requested her. It didn't take long to discover why she had no roommate and it was so unpleasant living with her that I spent most of my time at the Newman Center (where Char and I became friends, and where I met Walt--as well as everyone else in the Pinata group). By the time I changed roommates and had a really nice one, my social life was pretty much centered around Newman Hall and I'm afraid that I wasn't the nice roommate, because I was never home. I never did feel that I "belonged" in the dorms.

I quit the university after a semester and a half and went to work in the Physics Department and had a series of apartments, one across from what is now the site of the new Newman Center. I lived with Gerry, one day to be Ned's godmother, for awhile, then I moved in with Mike and Char while I tried to pay off the bills I ran up on my charge cards. Finally I had another apartment of my own, where I was living when Walt and I got married.

After Walt and I married, we moved into a little upstairs apartment on Prince Street in Berkeley.

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(love that Google Earth!)

We had the apartment on the right and there was a big living room in front, then a dining room and one bedroom and kitchen. There was a huge walk-in closet that we converted into a nursery when I was pregnant with Jeri. It was large enough to accomodate a crib, a dresser and a bathinette and still have room for us to hang clothes in the walkway that went off of the closet (in the space that was at one time a Murphy bed).

We moved to Albany, next door to Berkeley, when I was pregnant with Ned and had a wonderful 2-story house, which you can't see from the front in this Google earth photo.

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I was interested to see that it's still a double lot. We had this HUGE back yard because it was really intended for there to be two houses on it. The little roof you can see to the left was a shed, which would have made a great office, if I'd ever set that up, but I was too busy with babies to think of it. It backed up onto the grounds of a school and the two properties were separated by a fence and a line of Eucalyptus trees. One night one of the trees crashed down, knocking over the fence. The school paid to have it put back up again, but called the police whenever our dog got out and wandered onto the school property until the work got done! (I always thought that was unfair.)

That house had a front room, a dining room (which became Ned's bedroom), a kitchen and a bedroom downstairs and then something like a "widow's walk" upstairs, where Jeri slept. There was no room for a washing machine in the house, so it was in the basement and we were too poor for a dryer, so I hung clothes out on the line in the back yard and went into apoplexy every time the dog ("Ho Chi Mutt") pulled all of my clean clothes off the line and dragged them around the yard.

I remember that Jeri and I watched the very first Sesame Street in the living room of that house, I remember recording Jeri and me reading Dr. Seuss' ABC book so I could send the recording to Sister Anne, who had sent her the book, and I remember standing over the floor heater in the hall outside the bathroom one morning, opening the newspaper and reading that Bobby Kennedy had been shot. I also remember when we were going to be doing something with the refrigerator and Walt tipped it up onto one side and asked me to hold it there, the weight of it resting on me, while he went to get a tool or something. I was 7 months pregnant at the time. I've never let him forget that!

I also remember having a craving for Italian peppers while being pregnant with Ned and calling Walt at work each day asking him to bring another jar of peppers home for me. I don't think I've eaten Italian peppers since then--but I probably ate a lifetime worth of them during that pregnancy.

When Paul was expected, we had to find a bigger house and figured we were ready to buy our own. Pat and Rich were looking for a house too. Mike and Char were already living over in the Glenview District of Oakland and said there were several houses for sale in their neighborhood, so Pat and I made an appointment with a realtor to look at houses. I think Pat always felt I stole the best house out from under her. We walked into this house and I fell in love with it immediately. I called Walt from the kitchen phone of the house and we arranged to see the realtor that night and I think we agreed to buy it right then and there. Pat and Rich ended up buying a house about three blocks away.

I loved that house. I still love that house, though it would never have accommodated five growing children. Paul, Tom and David were all born while we were living there. David was 18 months old when we moved. The house had a nice big living room with a fireplace, a big dining room that held not only a nice table, but also the piano we recently sold, and a day bed that was always piled high with laundry. It had three bedrooms and a huge kitchen with a big island that I fell in love with. Me being me, the island became a place to stack stuff and it was usually a mess, but it was also a great place to cook. I made all of our bread in those days, buying whole grains from a bulk food store and making wonderful things like cracked wheat bread and lots of things made from sourdough. Char and I baked our famous pumpkin pies in that kitchen. I made all of the babies' solid foods. The kids and I made cookies together. I made soups and stews in the wonderful sunken pot in the stove. I made horrendous messes that drove Walt crazy, but I hope somebody also has some nice memories of that kitchen. I do.

Beyond the kitchen was a back porch where the washer and dryer (we could now afford a dryer) went. I remember the time it flooded. I was ankle deep in water, trying to wring out diapers that I could hang outside (yes, I had cloth diapers). We also had a small yard with a garage that never held a car and a gorgeous brick BBQ that we never used because it was too big (we barbequed on a smaller grill). The yard also had a prolific Meyer lemon tree that I loved and a prolific bottlebrush tree that I hated because it always dropped red needles all over the place.

Upstairs there was an attic that was half finished, so there was a nice small room up there and beyond it space on the rafters to balance boxes and things like that. When we were in the middle of trying to sell the house, I lost my balance, slipped off of one of the rafters, and ended up putting my foot through the ceiling of the living room. After she stopped laughing, the realtor postponed showing the house until Walt had fixed the hole.

Best of all, the house had a tiny little office (it was designed as a sewing room) just inside the front door where I set up my typewriter and both worked and started the journal that would one day evolve into Funny the World. The office looked out on the wonderful front porch where we liked to sit and talk to the neighbors as they walked by...and which was a great place for a baby to get a bit of fresh air, or to raise a turtle in a plastic wading pool.

I was so sorry when Walt was transferred up here to Davis, though we have settled in here and have been in this house for 36 years. so we must like it. But we both miss the front porch and neighborhood camaraderie, which we have never had here.

4 comments:

gigicallaway said...

Guess I should get motivated now to write about our moves...I've not as many as Peg, but more than you! Great job, Bev. I'll have to try Google Earth.

pandionna said...

Good grief, Bev, I can't imagine learning to roller-skate in San Francisco! Wow!

Bev Sykes said...

LOL. Well, there ARE lots of flat places to skate, you know. You should be more shocked at parallel parking on one of the steepest hills in the city with a standard transmission! Now THAT was an accomplishment!!!

Indigo said...

That San Franciso street is just too much! My brother's skateboard never would have stayed put on that street, and my dad would have killed me as I tried to learn stick shift!