Viewing this from the perspective of my age at the time, I’m sure I only saw the good parts of the whole process, being utterly clueless about the money involved and the countless decisions that were likely discussed and debated throughout the whole affair. To me, it was unadulterated excitement to watch a house rise from the ground, brick by brick, from beginning to end.
No trip to the new house while it was under construction went missed by any of us and we were always eager for that moment when Dad would come home from work because we knew that a trip over to see it would be likely. We all wanted to see what progress had been made by the workers who were always busy hammering, painting, laying brick and installing things and the excitement was in the discovery of what had changed since the last visit.
Our home wasn’t built; it was crafted. Houses weren’t thrown up in a month back then like so many of them are now. About the only prefabricated things I can think of that went into the house in one piece was the doors, fixtures and carpet-everything else was pretty much built or assembled on site by a small team of expert craftsmen and the process to build the house took about eight months to complete.
The house was pretty big for the time and to me, it seemed to go on forever. There were all kinds of rooms and the one most important to me was the one that was going to be my bedroom (which I shared for the first few years with my brother). Our room was huge and it was on the southwestern corner of the house which meant it got good light during the day and evening. It was also closest to the central air conditioning unit (which was still a big deal to have in 1973; many of our neighbors didn’t have that yet). This meant my room was nice and chilled during the hottest months of the summer, not that my mother let us stay in much during those months out of school.
Finally, the house was finished and moving day came. It was March 10th, 1973, which happened to be my Dad’s 27th birthday. My brother, not even two and a half, was shipped off to the grandparents house for the day and some guys with a moving truck brought all the furniture over from our old house on Brookwood Avenue.
The rest my father moved himself most of the day in my grandfather’s pickup truck. I helped a little but the day for me was mostly fun because I got to ride in the bed of the truck with all the stuff on multiple trips back and forth between Brookwood and Woodland Way. It was perfectly OK for a 7-year-old, going on 8, to do that in 1973. The truck didn’t have seatbelts anyway so I probably wasn’t much safer up front with Dad and I don’t think we got over 20 the entire time.
Finally, the moving-in was done. The old house, packed to the gills with our stuff that morning, was now empty. The new house, on the other hand, swallowed everything whole. It didn’t look like we had moved hardly anything that day but pretty soon all my stuff was out all over the bedroom with room to spare-and, to my surprise, the bunk beds that had taken up half the space in our old bedroom were now two beds on opposite sides of the room. This was better than Christmas.
That evening our new neighbors, Mike and Catherine Allen, came over to visit and we all became fast friends. While they were here, the heaviest rain ever to hit (I think) poured down but we were all dry and cheerful having dinner with our neighbors. Over the next few days, more dropped by and these people, some of them young couples like my parents and others, older and wiser couples with a few decades of marriage under their belts, became surrogate parents and grandparents to my brother and I. It was the best place in the world to grow up in with the best people.
There was Mike and Catherine Allen; Bill and Loretta Browning; Bailey and Sarah Beth Crockarell; Emory and Margaret Spencer. Younger couples with kids our age were Bobby and Anita Taylor; Wayne and Barbara Phillips; Herman and Nancy Waits; Donny and Rosemary Leverette. A year later, Rick and Linda Ballard built a new house next to ours and brought their new baby home a couple of years later.
We rode bikes for miles a day on those streets; built ramps and jumped things, inspired as we were by Evel Knievel. It’s a miracle that Knievel didn’t inspire one of us into an early grave. We played in the woods; built forts; dammed up the ditch with bricks and flooded the yard during a rainy summer day; jumped on the neighbor’s trampoline, refreshingly free of safety nets and covers for the springs and walked without supervision to Jones’s store to buy a bag of candy for a dime.
Our parents and the other adults in the “hood” formed part of a sophisticated, NSA-worthy surveillance system. While we roamed freely from one end of Woodland Way to the other and up and down Watkins Street in blissful ignorance of our imagined independence, eyes watched us at all times, ready at a moment’s notice to come running should anything unusual happen. Band-Aid’s magically appeared at the first sign of blood, along with that dreaded brown bottle of hydrogen peroxide that bubbled, foamed and stung but would keep us from certain death at the hands of something called lockjaw.
We wandered from house to house and worked the system once we figured it out. Show up en masse, play hard for 30 minutes, fall out on the ground in the throes of exhaustion and wait for the tray of Kool-Aid to appear. On a good day, we might get four complete servings of Kool-Aid and I don’t know how our parents all managed to keep enough of it in stock back in those days before Sam’s Warehouse and buying products by the crate.
If any of us were insane enough to get into a fight (usually my friend Keith and I were the ones to do it), justice was swiftly served and it didn’t matter by whom it was administered. Every parent and every sitter had unquestionable disciplinary rights and privileges. Authority was never questioned and so long as we lived within our rather liberal boundaries, respected the property of others and didn’t overstay our welcome at anyone’s home, life was good for the twelve or so of us that grew up there. We had it made and never knew it.
We sold lemonade to make money for trips to Jones Store until Officer Eddie James Berry shut down our stand for not having a City business license. We turned the trampoline on its side and took turns throwing the little kids against it to see how far they could bounce off it. We held burial services for the fallen birds and squirrels and a few beloved pets along the way. We rode in cars crammed with kids without car seats, airbags and rollover avoidance systems. Somehow, we managed to grow up and thrive despite our parents not hovering over us every minute. Those who didn’t work weren’t inside watching videos on how to be a politically correct, perfect parent. They were usually watching “The Price is Right” or “One Life to Live” while making Kool-Aid, bologna sandwiches or restocking the first aid kit.
Through it all, our home sheltered us, nurtured us and most of all, survived us.
A few weeks ago, I walked through those halls and rooms to show the house to a couple who were interested in it. After they left, I spent some time looking around and remembering days long past.
Could it really be 42 years old? Were the hallway always so narrow? How many meals did we eat together where that breakfast room table used to be? How few did we ever eat in that formal dining room?
Is there anything that will get that Wacky Package Sticker to ever come off the bedroom wall? Who really thought orange was a good color for carpet? Did they realize how much Lego could get lost in shag carpet and what it would do to your foot if you stepped on it with bare feet?
Why don’t houses have attic fans today for those times when it’s too warm for heat and too cool for air conditioning? Why didn’t we put that floor vent cover back after the kitten fell into the ductwork? Our kitchen cabinets had hidden compartments in the back for more stuff; why don’t they now?
How bare the refrigerator looks without 50 magnets from places visited on vacations, bereft of John and Hilary’s birth announcements, newspaper clippings and yellowed snapshots.
How big and empty it is now, when it was once full of people and pets and stuff. Now it is a place of memories and little reminders of childhood days, of Christmases and birthdays past, of summers that seemed to last for six months and a time when TV had a handful of channels and a big metal antennae on the roof.
How shaded and beautiful the neighborhood still is in the early weeks of spring but how few of those houses still have the same people living in them. Time creates contrasts between what was and what is and nowhere is that more apparent than walking back in time while standing in the present reality.
It’s time to come back to the present and it’s time to go home, to a place much newer but not quite as big, to a neighborhood with smaller trees and no power lines overhead to scare kids with threats of electrocution. I don’t feel at home here anymore. This is my past and my childhood, a time I once had and didn’t appreciate then, yet one that I still wish I could go back to now and then, if just to visit and spend a pleasant afternoon drinking Kool-Aid and trying to figure out how to build a flaming circle for Evel “Keith” Knievel to jump his bike through.
This was then and now is now. Time to go. There are new memories to be made.