Monday, January 21, 2013

This Other Time, This Other Self

Cindy and April, 1968
First Glimpse

My lifelong friend Cindy recently asked me if I had any photos of us together as children.

There aren't many that I know of and I made copies of the ones I had. When I gave them to her, I said, "I know there is one of us sharing a chair, but I can't find it."

And then in the manner of lost things, it turned up when I was looking for something else. "LOOK WHAT I FOUND!," my email read.

We are sitting in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, the top floor of a two-story house my maternal grandfather had built by himself in the early nineteen-teens. I say "house," but it was really a homemade apartment building: three units (one upstairs, one downstairs, and one split—we lived in the split unit) when I was a young child, two units (one upstairs, our" house, one downstairs, where my grandparents and aunt lived) when I was older. Because it was all family (even the third set of tenants had a family tie), we had the run of the whole house, which made it seem less like an apartment building. It was certainly an atypical style of housing for our small town, even with family on both floors.

It is clearly a birthday celebration of some sort, noting the stack of plates and forks on the table. It is probably my birthday, as I would have wanted a chocolate cake, not the vanilla cake someone (most likely my mom) is ready to slice.

In looking at my childhood, I can see now that my parents back then would have struggling up the socioeconomic ladder from working class poor to blue collar middle class. Home ownership was still a few years away for them, and when they did buy, it was a ramshackle fixer-upper that they worked on night and day for three months before we could move in. The apartment, indeed the whole house, lacked central heating; the only full bathroom was on the first floor. We had a toilet in a closet-sized room upstairs. Dad shaved at the kitchen sink; my mom and I were adept at washing our hair under the sink faucet. None of that struck me as strange then, and does not strike me as strange now looking back.

When I found the photo for Cindy, I looked at it long and hard. I want to enter and explore that kitchen again, a kitchen I last ate supper in in early 1970. I want to walk again in that long ago, long lost space, put my hand there, see it with the eyes of an adult far older now than my parents were then. I want to see how they cobbled together, with pennies and string and aspirations, the family life they gave us all.

Second Glimpse

My bookshelf, 2013 
My intense reading rampage continues. I have at any given time several titles in the queue at the library. Sometimes they are new books and I am on the wait list, sometimes they are arriving from other libraries.

The other day, returning two and knowing no queued books were waiting for me, I took a look at the New Nonfiction shelf. I grabbed one called Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step At a Time. The book was a romp through the dynamics of downtown revitalization and urban planning. "Streetscape," "street fabric," "scale," "edge," and other planning terms were served up in a breezy, sometimes snarky tone. It was a lingo and a world (and an attitude) I used to know well and this book dropped me back into that world temporarily.

A decade ago I was in the thick of those ideas and discussions here in Delaware. I lived in a rehabbed downtown apartment, I sat on our city's Historic Preservation Commission (Delaware has a historic overlay downtown), I spent a lot of time reading, talking, and writing about downtown development. My bookshelves are still laden with works on planning, urban design, and architecture. There is Jane Jacobs, there is Witold Rybczynski, there is the ferociously irreverent James Howard Kuntsler. I have A Field Guide to Sprawl and A Visual Dictionary of Architecture.

There was a night, after a design hearing of some sort, when lots of downtown-oriented friends gathered in my apartment for an impromptu debriefing and celebration. While I did not share a chair with anyone that night, there was that same giddiness. I remember having my feet on the rungs of someone else's chair, the heightened discussion, a lot of laughter, and the rush of knowing all of us in the room shared a common goal.

I left that world behind starting in 2004. First the local newspaper sold and I stopped writing my architectural column. Then the myeloma appeared and my life narrowed into a tunnel of treatment When I reemerged, time had moved on and so had I. Marriage to Warren moved me even further into the Symphony world and Percussion Universe. I can still talk "urban development," but I am no longer fluent and my knowledge is no longer current.

I am no more the 40-something who celebrated that hearing victory than I am the twelve-year old who celebrated that birthday alongside her best friend. Yet flecks of them both are threaded through the person I am today, glimmering on the surface when something stirs those other times, those other selves.


see you there! said...

When I come across old photo's I am always amazed at the memories that surface. Normally I don't have a really good memory, visuals seem to be the way my mind works.

Enjoyed your stories.


Md Rajon said...


Christine said...

my 12 year old daughter has recently been asking about her childhood memories. and my husband and i tell her about her young years. but I also told her we would take out the pictures and rehash. And build/recreate some more picture books (as lots of pictures stay stuck on the computer).

Stories are good. Takes a tribe to raise a family. And that sense of identity is important.

Thank you for sharing, April.