Tuesday, July 19, 2011
For the first 10 years of my life my family lived in rented housing, first in apartments until I was about 6 years old, then in a rented house. Finally at age 10 our family bought the house above in Long Beach.
It originally sat on property three blocks south of where it ultimately landed. The Long Beach "bus barn" on Anaheim near Cherry Avenue needed to expand, and this house had to be moved. My father purchased it and had it moved to some empty property he owned. His intention was to fix it up and sell it, but when my mother saw it she insisted that it was the house of her dreams. Daddy acquiesced. It became "the house I grew up in" and will forever be what I think of when I reflect back on those days.
It was not a big house, but it did have a lot of rooms. It was two rooms wide. Across the front on the left side was a living room, behind that a dining room, and behind that a kitchen. On the back of the house abutting the kitchen was a room full of windows that we called a "sewing room" but which usually functioned as a bedroom. That room also had a door to the outside. On the right side of the house was a den, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and on the back of that side was a tiny extra room that also was used for a bedroom. That room was just wide enough for a single bed and a walkway. I'd guess the house had about 1800 square feet to it. I always thought of it as a big house, but as I grew older and as time passed, I decided it really wasn't all that big. The rooms were not big, but I admit there were more of them than most houses had.
Years later after I moved away, I had occasion to drive by the old house, and I couldn't believe how much smaller the front yard was from what I remembered. But of course all my memories are from the time I was a young person, and everything seemed bigger then because I was smaller.
In talking this over with my sister a few years ago, we also agreed that the pots and pans mother had in the kitchen were all much smaller than we remembered them. The pot she used when she made stew was huge -- but somehow, like her cookie sheet, it grew much smaller over the years.
In reconnecting with old friends at our High School Reunion back in 2003, I learned that they all thought we lived in a huge house and that we were very rich. I was so suprised to hear that. I didn't think of our family in that way. But what I learned from them was this: many of them had come to California during the depression in search of work. They truly were poor. Although I had been in their houses when we were all in elementary school, I have no recollection of thinking they were poor, but in retrospect I can now see that compared to what they were still living in, our house would have seemed like a mansion.
As for my family being rich, we had a strange situation. My father was, as best as I can describe it, a promoter. He cultivated friends at the bank and in real estate, got loans and bought property, developed the property and sold it. He reinvested the money in other property, etc. He was always having mother sign on the next loan application. He needed an "image" as a successful businessman, so he drove a nice car and entertained at nice restaurants.
My mother, on the other hand, never was able to emotionally move out of the depression. All she ever wanted was for Daddy to get a job with a regular paycheck. She lived as if another depression was right around the corner. Dad would buy her a beautiful dress, and she would return it to the store and buy two house dresses. She never allowed my sister and me to buy any "name" apparel. We had to buy the cheaper "knock-offs" (although we didn't call them that in those days.) Mother was frugal and worried; Dad was generous in his spending and spent hours at the table "figuring" -- which was, according to our mother, him trying to figure out what he was going to use for money the next week! He always owed money but always made money, too. Mother always felt there was NO money.
After my sister and I married and went out on our own, the folks upgraded to a different house, but they didn't do it deliberately. One day one of dad's co-horts called to say there was a nice house for sale in Belmont Heights that he thought would be a good investment for dad. Dad bought it sight unseen. That was a good part of town and Dad figured he could make money on that house. Again, when my mother saw it, she said she'd updated her dream and THIS was now the house of her dreams. Again, Dad acquiesced. Dad had no idea that all the furniture in the house came with the sale, so my folks ended up with a lovely house, beautifully furnished.
That is the house my children remember as "Maa-Maa's (Grandma's) house. I have no emotional investment in that house whatsoever. It was nice, but in my heart nothing could be as good as the Gardenia avenue house.
I had always hoped to be able to go back to that old house and take a look through it. As it happened, it was for sale a year or two ago, and online there were photographs of all the rooms. I looked at them, but was horrified to see that not one of them looked like the room I grew up in. Each room had been modified to some extent. I decided it was just as well that I let sleeping dogs lie. The real rooms in that house only exist in my memory, along with all the fun and the warmth and the good times.
So I occasionally look at the photo above and re-affirm that it was surely the best house in the whole world for a girl to grow up in, size and value notwithstanding!