When I was a little kid, one of the activities of our family on Sundays when there were no other plans was to pack us all in the car and go "looking at houses." What a thrill that was for a couple of little kids Sitting in the car all day while we drove around and oohed and aahed at houses.
I grew up in a flat on one of San Francisco's steepest hills. My mother was pregnant with me when they moved in. The building was owned by a friend of my grandparents and she offered them a good deal on the rent. The idea was that they would live there until they found a home of their own.
They moved out 30 years later.
Over the years my father came to regard the owners, Irma and Joe, as family. He was particularly close to Joe, who was Italian and my father always said he felt he was part Italian (he was Irish through and through). As Irma and Joe got older, they relied on him more and more and he became the manager of the building (4 flats and a grocery store). After Irma and Joe died, their daughter, Inez, owned the building and continued to keep my father as manager. She also continued to keep their rent extremely low. In 1972, when they moved, they were paying $47 a month rent...and they had apologized to them when they had to raise the rent a couple of dollars a few years before.
After they moved out, they rented the place for $250 and I'm sure it now rents for hundreds, if not over $1,000.
But my mother never gave up her dream of a home of her own. In the early years, they were building the huge Richmond District in San Francisco, a large housing development to meet the needs of the post-war baby boom. They were the kinds of houss Malvina Reynolds wrote aboaut in her song "Little Boxes," pretty much identical houes, with different designs on the garage, or a different arch over the entry-way.
The houses were selling for around $2,000 and my mother was excited about the prospect of owning one, but my grandmother, whose erroneous ideas changed our lives more than once, convinced my father that money belonged in a bank and that investment in property was risky.
So we never bought a home. My mother lasted on the flat until long after it was an empty nest and then told my father that she was moving to Marin County and he could either come with her or not, but she would not live in that flat any longer. They went house shopping and found a lovely home in San Rafael and my father was very happy having moved. But of course it was too late for Karen and me to have enjoyed growing up in a neighborhood with other families.
But we did spend a lot of time driving around looking at the houses of those who did buy those homes.
Yesterday I went to Atria to take my mother her morning's pill. She slept until 11:30 so never had breakfast, though I got her to eat a breakfast bar. She was complaining, as she frequently does, that there was nothing exciting happening for her. She had nothing to do, nobody to see, etc. All the things her hermit-hood has brought her and that she is unwilling to do anything about.
But I decided to take her out to lunch, just to give her something different to break up the monotony of her day.
We went to a quiet Chinese restaurant where I have taken her before. Busy restaurants are too noisy for her and she gets confused, but this place is perfect. It's quiet and she likes Chinese food, which they don't serve at Atria. And she ate. I had asked her which she liked better, mushrooms or broccoli (thinking I'd find that out ahead so we could order a vegetable dish) and she said "uh...neither." Another change. She used to practically go into ecstacy at mushroom dishes and was always pleased with fresh vegetables. But she now says she doesn't like vegetables. We we had honey walnut chicken and chow mein. She even went back for seconds on chow mein, but because it's difficult to dish up she mainly had meat and celery, so I figure she had something nutritious.
And then after lunch was over, I decided to go driving around looking at houses. She is always so happy to look at trees and greenery and flowers and I figured we would just drive around a couple of housing developments so she could look at what the houses were like.
It was a good idea. She loved the houses. She loved the vegetation and she seemed to be in a good mood when I dropped her off at Atria. I came home to do her laundry before returning for the afternoon pill.
I even managed to sneak out the clothes she has been wearing all week, which she insists don't need washing, despite the stains on the pants.
When I came back in the middle of the afternoon for her second she had no memory of going to lunch or driving around looking at houses, but in the moment she enjoyed it and that made it worthwhile.
In the evening, we had a Facetime call with Santa Barbara and were able to join in the singing of "Happy Birthday" as Tom blew out his birthday candles. It was the next best thing to being there...but we didn't get any cake.