When I was four, my family moved from Arkansas to California. For a few months we stayed at my grandparents’ house. I don’t recall much from that time except that I had a little green bicycle that I think someone pulled out of the dump and spray painted so that I would have a bike. I remember years later, my mom said that while we were living there, I took a pair of scissors and clipped all of the folds in my grandmother’s drapes. I was only four at the time, so I don’t remember it, but it sounds like something I would do. I’m pretty sure it embarrassed my mom, and may be one of the reasons she didn’t especially connect with my dad’s parents. I don’t know… Speculation on my part. But looking at others I know who have stayed with people in a transition situation, things that the kids do makes parents crazy and strains relationships, especially among the women.
My dad eventually found a little house on a cul-de-sac a couple of miles from my grandparents’ house. The house couldn’t have been more than 1000 square feet. It was probably more like 800 or 900. There was a small eat-in kitchen in the front, a small living room that had a door directly into the master bedroom, and a short hallway off the back of the living room that led to the two smaller bedrooms. My brother and I shared the bedroom directly behind the kitchen, and the girls got the one in the middle of the house. The bathroom was between these two bedrooms. We stayed in that house from the time I was in kindergarten to about the time I was in fourth or fifth grade.
In the winter, the house was really cold. In fact, I remember getting up for school some mornings and it being so cold in the house that my mom had all of the burners on the stove going to help heat the place. I would go in the bathroom and rum my hands under the hot water to warm them up. The heater was an old gold-colored gas thing. It was in the wall between the living room and the hallway in front of my sisters’ bedroom, so it was pretty much central in the house, but it didn’t heat very well. But on those cold mornings, it was the best heat we could get, so we would run to the kitchen, get a bowl of cereal, and then argue over who got to sit with our feet directly under the heater- one in the hall, and one in the living room.
One of my favorite memories from the house was the day we got the carpet changed. When we moved in, the carpet was really old and nasty. Apparently it was that green 70s shag, but it had a lot of dog stains. When my parents saved enough, they went and got new carpet. It was a brown high/low, with the little lines running through it. I remember all of the furniture being out on the lawn. That was strange to me as a kid. I also remember the incredibly large amount of dirt on the floor after they pulled the carpet up. They installed the carpet, and I was fascinated by the process.
Behind the house was an unattached garage. When we moved in, the siding was some kind of wooden slats. Somewhere along the way, my dad decided to replace the siding on the garage. To remove the old siding, which was dry rotted, my dad, mom, and one of my uncles were using a sledge hammer to bust it up, then a claw hammer to pull out the nails. I got to bust some of the siding off, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. They replaced the siding with plywood, which they painted yellow. Strange choice, but… Hey, if you knew my family, you’d understand.
In the back corner of the yard was an apricot tree that we spent many hours climbing. Somewhere along the way, my parents put up a tire swing, and we wore a hole in the ground underneath it. It wasn’t just a tire hung from the tree, it was an actual swing made from an old tire. If you cut around the bead, then across the tread, so that you remove about 75% of the sidewall and tread, but leave the rings of bead on both sides, you can turn it inside out, tie a rope from the bead to the tree, then you have a swing. When you spin it up as much as you can, you spin for what seems like forever. You spin one way, then back, then back again. When you get off, you can’t walk straight, and sometimes you even throw up a little. Best feeling ever!
There were some train tracks about a block from our house. Sometimes we would go over there against our parents’ permission and do things like put coins on the tracks and let the trains squish them. Once there was a train carrying some sort of ore; I guess that’s what it was. It was a silvery, grey, shiny rock. Some of it fell off the train and we got pieces of it. I still have mine somewhere. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I guess that’s why I held on to it.
There were two kids who lived next door to us. Their dad owned a small car lot and and detailing shop, so he always had cool cars. The oldest one was a couple of years older than my older sister. The younger one was either the same age or a year older than her. We hung out with them quite a bit. For a while, I think when I was in second grade, there were two girls that lived across the street. I tried to impress them one day with my fishing pole. I tied a weight to the end of the line and tried casting toward them. Their dad got upset with me. They also had chickens. We got in their chicken cage one day and tried to catch one of them. I don’t remember if we were successful, but it was interesting.
There were some kids down the street at the house on the corner. They were a rough bunch. The one that was close to our age was named J.D., I think. They were always dirty, and they cussed. There was a tree house in their yard. One day the younger kid from next door and me and one of the dirty kids climbed up in their tree house and looked at a playboy or some other girlie magazine. I was only in second or third grade, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I vaguely remember a naked woman with paint all over her body.
My neighbor also introduced me to the word “stoned”. We were riding our bikes and we skidded on some dirt, which cause a minor dust cloud. He said something to the effect of, “we could do that over and over, then get in the middle of the ‘smoke’ so we can get stoned.” Near the same time, we were playing one day and somehow ended up in my front yard. As best I can remember, we were paying like we were going through a typical day… or something. Anyway, we “came home” to my front yard. That’s where the “house” was in whatever it was that we were playing. And he said, “OK, now we have to hump.” He lies on the grass, face down, and begins doing semi pushups with his pelvis. I followed suit. I had no idea what we were doing, but looking back on it as an adult, I can imagine that he had been exposed to something on TV… or whatever that he had an inking of an idea what “humping” was.
It was while we were living at that house that we discovered what an eclipse was. One day the kids next door asked our mom if we could come over and watch the eclipse that night. She asked what channel it was on. That’s still one of my funniest memories. It says a lot about my upbringing in one sense as well. That night, both of our families stood in the back yards and watched the moon slowly black out, then slowly reappear.
Some time later, one night my dad got all of us out of bed and took us to the back yard so we could watch the space shuttle fly over. I remember that it was cold, and we were staring at the sky, then finally, a fairly bright- what looked like a star- somewhat quickly made its way across the sky. I’ve done the same thing to my kids; stay up late so we could watch some astronomical event. Kids hate it, but one day, they’ll look back with fond memories.
There are lots of other memories I have of that house. I’ll have to post them later. We had a garden, there were olive trees, and this one summer rain storm I’ll never forget. But those are for another time.