Saturday, January 23, 2010

Houses with the Shine Worn Off

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend, telling me about a website.  You could type in childhood addresses and see a current, live photo of the house.

Termites have probably won the battle with a few of the houses I grew up in; some we didn't live in long enough for them to hold more than a shadow of a memory with me, but there are two. I suppose a psychologist could give good reasons why they stand out from all the rest. I just know I loved them - and the years spent there - more than any others. We moved into the first one when I was about 8 or 9, and stayed until I had just joined the ranks of teenager.

Memories that flooded, when the photo showed on the screen, seem as fresh as yesterday. Roller skating on the driveway, with the key looped through a ribbon tied around my neck; catching crawdads in the ditch and building forts from the trees left over after Christmas; learning the sad truth about Santa, dancing all over the couches to Baby Elephant Walk and piano lessons from Mrs. Wiggins who lived down the street and whose little boy died. The ice cream truck that drew us kids to the streets every day, playing music that sounded like what I imagined a circus would. I saw the tree in our front yard - home base for nighttime games of Hide 'n Seek that included the entire neighborhood. As I traveled up and down the street with the cursor I saw the culdesac where Pepi lived. Pepi the big, scary dog that tore my brother's leg open when he tried to ride by with his newspapers strapped to his bike. I still remember that the tear was in the shape of an L. I went from child to young girl in that house, so leaving behind my Barbies and Thumbelina when we moved was probably appropriate, but given the choice I would have kept them.

The website showed the Erwin's house, right across the street.. They were the only family in the neighborhood that had more kids than we did. How did they all fit in that tiny house I didn't know was tiny? Was the neighborhood that shabby when we lived there, or have forty years just worn the shine off everything that's visible to the naked eye? That's a question for adults, not little girls 8 years old.

Pulling up the picture of the house on Emile, my home when I was too young to tie my own shoes, I was surprised to see people. A black man sat on the steps with a little boy, also black. The steps my siblings went up and down to walk to school. The pecan tree I've revered in my memories is gone, replaced by a sad little sapling. As I scrolled up and down the street I saw houses with windows boarded up, yards overgrown with brambles, abandoned cars and other signs that most people who live there have a lot of month left after the paycheck runs out, if there is a paycheck at all.

Our neighborhoods might have been segregated but the schools were not. I still remember several girls in my class, trying to teach me to do double dutch jump rope at recess. I remember their knobby hair, sticking straight out at each side of their heads in fat braids that had many baubles on them. It was a sharp contrast to my yellow curly hair and fair complexion. Not that we cared about the color of our skin - we left such things to adults. I don't know if they never came home with me because we already had so many kids of our own, or that you just didn't do such a thing. If a black family lived on Click Drive I don't remember them. It seems to me when I lived on Emile there were no black families anywhere near us, but then I was little and so was my world.

I looked at the black man sitting on the porch with his little boy, in that worn-out house, in that worn-out neighborhood and I wondered. If I stopped by, walked up those wooden steps and introduced myself, if I told him I'd lived there as a little girl, would that endear me to him, or separate us more? No answers, just deep questions.

9 comments:

Becky said...

Amazin! I'll have to try that website.

And yes, those are very interesting questions. A lot has healed in the past couple of generations. But there is a lot of healing yet to be I think.

I loved reading this Bev.

Kelly said...

Interesting questions, similar to the ones floating around my head since I read "The Help" this weekend. It was written about the early 60's, in the decade before I was born, and it stunned me to realize how different the world was such a short time ago. I think you would enjoy this book, if you haven't already read it. It is very thought provoking.

Gretchen said...

Yes, those deep questions need thinking about, don't they. Love your beautiful, thoughtful heart. Seen so evidently in this post.

Val said...

It is interesting to think of who lives in the houses we inhabit. My house was built in 1906, and I like to think of myself as the current caretaker, not the owner. We've found bits of past owners in it....even (unintentional) footprints in the basement's concrete floor. I love that a memory of those people will always be there. As Churchill said, "We shape our buildings, therefore, our buildings shape us."

Bev said...

LOVE this thought Val! The home we just moved from, after fourteen years, is now home to a family with three little ones and playground equipment adorns the backyard where my herb garden was - fun to see it changing and being used differently. A nice way to see things - thanks for the perspective.

Fonda said...

Wow! That really leaves me thinking about the houses we have left behind and the one that is on the market now. Hopefully, it will find a new family soon and the backyard will once again be filled with toys and the driveway lined with bicycles.

Bev said...

Fonda, I loved that when we sold our house last summer, with our kids all grown up, we sold it to a family with three little ones. First thing they did was put playground equipment where the herb garden had been. Probably she needed a place for them to swing more than she needed fresh basil!

Barb said...

Wow, Bev. I'm amazed you remember the address of the house on Emile Street. I don't. I do remember the address of the house on Click Drive and the moment I finish this comment, I'm running to that web site. Rob's been fiddling around with Google Earth, but it's not live shots.

There were no black families in the Click Drive neighborhood. But there were black families pretty close to our house on Emile Street.

It's funny how much the five year difference in our ages affects our memories of those two houses. Yours are those of a little girl and mine are those of a young teenager.

Off to check out the web site. xoxo

Bev said...

I've had such fun with the website, looking up all our previous homes. The people who sold us our current house - looked up theirs, in a beautiful neighborhood and laughed to see that the satellite took the photo when the trash trucks were on their street - not lovely! 2275 Wilson is gone to termites just as Dad said it would be - lot is completely empty -sad since all six of us were brought home there.