“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― Giovanni’s Room
Being raised by post-hippies comes with a collection of odd details and memories that don’t make sense unless grouped together, especially in a rowhouse in one of the weirder cities in America.
Welcome to 1536.
There was the time Aub and I made superman capes out of white bath towels, adorning them with highlighter markers and running through the house humming a theme song we didn’t really know.
And the time we decorated our rowhouse version of a tiny foyer with pencils all over the walls and Mom and Dad didn’t paint over it for 20 years.
Our Northeast Baltimore rowhouse with corn in the front yard, Dad in his cut-off jean shorts working our small plot like a farmer way out in the “county” where he always said we’d someday move.
I remember Ms. Jean down the alley calling me Fat Baby for three decades and telling me how, as a toddler I liked Nike’s treats so Mom let me eat them.
I see the remnants of our childhood repurposed in Dad’s garden. The old marble coffee table that held Chuckie’s tank until Mr. and Mrs. Taylor from across the street overfed him while we were in Ocean City and he went belly up at 5 years old, still the largest domestic gold fish I’ve ever seen. In the peppers, there’s home plate from a tee ball set we haven’t used since the early ’90s. An old toilet seat cover is another stepping stone and the bathroom stool I remember from childhood holds a big pot of rosemary. The furniture that never dies.
We watched Seinfeld nightly on an 1960s-era black and white TV well into W. Bush’s first administration. It sat in our dining room, got a maximum of three channels, and could only be changed by a stubborn dial.
At some point the golf phone went the way of the black and white, its cradle a golf bag and each number a dimpled ball. Because life was more of a priority than cleaning, I remember once taking a phone message on the golf phone, which I wrote with my pointer finger in the dust on an end table.
One time in college when I lived at home for a semester, Dad redid the wood floors. I was upstairs doing homework in my room and had to go out the front door and around the block with my laptop cord dangling behind me to go back through the kitchen door to eat dinner. He also built shelves without nails that line the living room, now a veritable library. Aubrey’s bedroom window became a door to a second-story deck a few years ago, complete with park bench and space for Mom to sunbathe. I guess when you stay somewhere long enough, you eventually get that space to reflect who you are.
I got good at picking glass out of my knees and I had tough little feet from playing in the alley without shoes. We knew how to make the alley into a baseball field and which bushes were the best for hide and seek. I used to get nervous in my hiding spots and pee my pants. Once at Ryan and Tiara’s house, I peed my jean shorts, left my hiding spot, ran the alley back home and changed into my other pair of jean shorts, then sprinted back to resume hiding.
You had to be out of the alley when it started getting dark. One time a man stumbled over to us and asked if we’d show him where the McDonald’s at Northwood was. We pointed down Tivoly as his bloodshot eyes followed our tiny puffy fingers. He asked if we could walk him there and without any knowledge of the horrors of the world, “No,” we’d said, and retreated back to whatever we were playing.
The most magical the alley could ever be was during a blizzard. The street lamps and layers of glitter sugar snow. Thick cotton and no cars. Its flaws and trash cans covered. It is perfect.
Ednor Garden’s Lakeside’s rowhouses popped up as the the baby boomers popped out. “Lake” and “side” are both stretches but Lake Montebello, which began as part of the water filtration plant, is a destination now. Runners, walkers, bikers, eccentrics, and miscellany surround a modern rod iron fence with the lake decorated with ducks and geese in the center. Across six-lane Hillen Road, on the other side of MerVo and the other filtration buildings lies Ednor Gardens Lakeside.
Each blog of about two dozen homes back up to another set just like them. In 70 years there are a lot of changes that set each once nearly identical house apart. I remember my mom describing end of group houses like Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, the fish-killers, as “huge.” They had windows on three sides.
To drive down the block updates people have made are obvious. Solar panels on my parents’ roof, an awning there, a new porch over there. What I am fairly certain all EGL houses began with was a knotty pine basement, equipped with a bar.
Our bar is topped with pink laminate and we have two backed, swivel stools which must have come with the house because I cannot imagine my parents purchasing such a thing. As kids, we loved to play bar and restaurant. Now, it’s just another storage spot. Back then, it was magical. All its shelves and the mirror in the back and a crank pencil sharpener–seemingly a standard in houses built in the ’50s. Above the bar are stick-on letters that may have belonged to the first owner, the bar’s first barkeep. What’s left says in red block letters: “All drinks on the house. If we run out, U go out and…,” “some…more,” “Proprietor Sgt of Arms P White Jr.”
I wonder if P White could have ever dreamed up the strange concoction that are my parents, who would move in in 1986 then gradually become the only white family on the block. Could P White have imagined that in 1971 Ms. Mabel and Mr. Clyde would need a recommendation from a white person to move in? A $12,000 row home that would someday sit in an all-black neighborhood. Did P White have the honor of knowing Mabel and Clyde? Mabel who took care of us while our parents worked and is largely responsible for our sense of discipline, who bought us tights every Christmas, who wore backless slippers, and mothered generations. I wish we had a photo of this proprietor and could see what he looked like sitting at his basement bar in uniform. Maybe we’ll find one in a crevice somewhere, someday.
When I was a kid I was embarrassed about where we lived. It was so different from the siding-coated homes my friends lived in, out in the “county.” We were far down Loch Raven Blvd. Crime sometimes happened nearby. There wasn’t a lot of space to hang out (more because of the sheer amount of stuff my parents kept than a lack of room). We kept clubs on our steering wheels. Our house was inconvenient, deemed unsafe (although I never felt it), and pretty quirky.
I remember going to Calvert Hall’s junior prom with a guy named Jeff who reminded me of a dinosaur. He was from Harford County. He and his parents came down to pick me up for the dance. My mom said that Jeff’s parents were horrified, seemed like they couldn’t get the photos taken fast enough–maybe by the sunflowers in our front yard? Or by the view of downtown from the hill by the Y? Or by our 175-pound St. Bernard? That’s the first time I can remember feeling proud of our house. Proud that these stuffy people were scared of it. Proud that we lived in a unique place just a few miles north of downtown. Proud that we could see the Harbor’s fireworks from our porch. Proud that my parents raised us differently. Proud that we had a pencil sharpener in our basement bar.
1536 is imprinted in my mind as a member of our family. She might be worth a whole memoir. I can only hope we someday get the chance to create or piece together as interesting of an upbringing at 807, in our own rowhouse near the beginning of the middle of the block.