With my car all fixed up and back in my possession (a subject for a later post, perhaps), it’s high time for me to catch up on my writing, and this prompt from Daily Post is a nice one to bounce back on. Here’s their prompt:
What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.
Well, the first place I remember living in was not the first place I lived in (there’s a difference). I have no recollection of the apartment my family lived in when I was an infant. However, I do have a couple of pictures of my mother, my birth father, and myself in that apartment. That place was, as best as I can describe it, a narrow apartment on a narrow street the west side of Chicago. I was never sure exactly where it was, but the parental address on my birth certificate confirms its location (more on that later). Like I said, I have no recollection of that first place whatsoever… although, for some reason, there’s an image in the very far reaches of my mind of me being lifted up as a baby by someone (Mom? An aunt? Some other relative?) in that apartment. Well, at least it seems as if it was that apartment.
The first place I do remember living in was nowhere near Chicago. In fact, it was a small rental house in my mom’s hometown in western Wisconsin. That house… well, the street it was on, truth be told, produced the earliest memory I have as a child. That memory was of a spring day, if not early summer, and I was around 3 years old, about to turn 4. I remember myself, my 2-year-old sister, and some neighbor kids from down the street playing at their house. That house had a white exterior; the interior of the house, and perhaps the sun porch, were predominantly dark green. One corner of their kitchen had a nightlight in the form of a turning globe of Planet Earth built inside one wall; I remember that nightlight being a mesmerizing thing when I visited.
But that was the neighbor kids’ house. The house my mom, my sister, and I lived in at that time was a small two-story rental house that was one of the more narrow houses on our street, though not so narrow that we had no room to live in. The exterior was mainly a beige color, not quite yellow or tan yet nowhere near white. I don’t remember the original color of the trim and front steps on that house, but I do remember Mom painting it red one late summer day. I know this because I accidentally put my little hand down on one part of the painted porch thinking it was dry, picked my hand up… and screaming bloody murder thinking my hand was all covered in blood. Whoops! Guess I didn’t heed Mom’s advisory not to touch that part of the porch yet. Yes, Mom did scold me as she washed off the paint from my hand and repainted that spot.
Next to the house was a 1-car garage where Mom parked her old white-and-red Ford Fairlane. Well, I guess it wasn’t so much a garage as it was a run-down shack that was just enough room to keep Mom’s car dry whenever it rained or snowed, and it had just enough structural integrity so that it wouldn’t fall down on the car.
Now, just a quick aside: If you think for a second from that part about the rickety garage that we lived in a bad part of Mom’s hometown… well, it wasn’t a bad, bad part of town. It’s just that for a town like Mom’s hometown, the houses on our street were closer together than they were on many of the other streets in town. To compare, we were a block or so away from a 1/3-mile stretch of street Mom and her high school friends nicknamed “Million Dollar Road.” That stretch wasn’t so much a route where the well-to-do of her hometown lived (really, I doubt that town has ever had a millionaire within its limits). Rather, its houses were built away from the street on well-shaded land. The resulting beauty led to the “lap of luxury” impression and its “Million Dollar Road” nickname. By comparison, the street we lived on had its houses built closer together, closer to the street, and with not as many shade trees.
Anyway, back to the house we lived in: Thinking back on it as an adult, that house was not as big as I remember it as a kid. Of course, when you’re 4 or 5 years old and only a few feet tall, everything seems big. I know the living room had small windows on each side, especially the windows flanking that big front door foyer. It was through those windows and foyer that we and whoever was babysitting us would wait for Mom to come back for lunch. At that time, Mom had a job in a small foundry/factory one block away from our house, just a little something that earned her enough to pay the bills. Though the south window was also somewhat small, it let in a lot of light and warmth from late morning to early afternoon, a good thing to have during the winter months.
The lower floor’s biggest window was where the sunlight was least appreciated: The base of the stairway connecting the kitchen to the upstairs. It was in the upstairs level where we had our bedrooms (Mom had hers, Sis and I shared our own). I don’t remember the upstairs as well as I do the downstairs, although I’d like to think we’d like to sneak into Mom’s bed at night when we couldn’t fall back asleep. Perhaps another reason for that was our bedroom had a really small window, whereas Mom’s bedroom window was bigger and let in a lot of morning sunshine.
Oh, there was one other part of that lower level, which Mom used as a play area for Sis and I and a party area for when we had our birthdays. Mom made sure all our toys were squared away in that back room when we weren’t playing with them. In that back room was the back door to the house, which of course led to the back yard. Though it was a small yard, Sis and I found it big enough to build snowmen, frolic in a sandbox, and play on a swing set. Sis and I and any neighbor kids that came over made sure the house was pretty loud. But then, I remember making enough noise to fill a concert hall whenever Mom had to wash my hair. Yeah, I was a pretty fidgety kid, and I was really terrified of getting my mane washed.
We lived in that house for only a couple of years, from the time Mom divorced our birth father and moved back from Chicago, to the time when Mom decided to move to eastern Wisconsin for schooling as a dental assistant. Whenever we’d go back together as a family to visit our grandparents, we would always drive near that house and compare how it looked at that time with how we remember it. (Driving near it was inevitable; it was a block away from the road we always took to get to our grandparents’ house.)
Since we moved out of that house so many decades ago, it has changed a little bit, exterior-wise, at least. The sides of the house would go from beige to off-white to bright yellow and eventually to tan with dark brown trim. Oh, and that rickety garage that was never in good shape has since been torn down, with only an open space for parking. I drove through Mom’s old hometown one year and noticed that the house was for sale, complete with a real estate agent’s sign and number. I was actually tempted to ring up the agent’s number and ask for a tour of the inside, being all curious about how it looked inside now (and what vague memories that tour could trigger). I thought better of it, though, and decided not to ring them up. I imagine the memories I have of that house should probably remain the way I remember them.
Oh, and that apartment in Chicago where I lived with my mom and birth father? I went down to Chicago for a weekend trip one year, and having the parental address indicated on my birth certificate, I drove past that apartment. As best as I could remember, that drive-by was the first time I remember seeing the outside of the apartment. Let’s just say that judging from its exterior, that apartment doesn’t seem to match what I speculated it was from those interior photos. And since I’m too young to remember living there, I’ll just combine my photos and that quick look of the outside to speculate what my very early years may have been like inside.