Friday, January 29, 2016

Adventures in Life: The Apartment

Apartment #1 on bottom left, this was the front door.

I love going back in time. It's not so hard to do when you live in your home town. Every few years I enjoy driving back through my old neighborhood and seeing how things have changed. The U-Totem convenience store is gone, along with the old washateria next to it. It's now a bright, shiny new home store. The old GM dealership on the corner is a beauty supply mega-store. The old House of Pies is still there, and then there is the apartment.

The old House of Pies on Kirby Dr., a Houston institution

The apartment I have the most memories of- some of the first and most impressionable memories of my childhood- is on the borders of the artsy Montrose and the affluent River Oaks section of Houston. This is the apartment were I went to kindergarten; I still remember Mom taking pictures of me and my friend, Dallas, on the day I started first grade. Wow, I had a friend named Dallas! In the alley behind the apartment is where I learned to ride a first bike, a Christmas gift, as was my first Lego set.
This is where I learned to ride a bike and I played in that very puddle of water!

This was the apartment where I lost my first pet dog in a battle with a car on nearby Kirby Dr. This is the apartment of my first pet cats, who had kittens in the living room. This is the apartment where I first noticed airplanes in the sky, where I played with Yvette in the bushes under my window, where I admired all the Halloween candy from the mansions a few blocks away, where I played in puddles after a rain and where, one day, I got in trouble for throwing rocks at passing cars. I was four...I had no idea that was bad. But I learned!

Mom was young and struggling after her divorce to a man who turned out to be a selfish, egotistical piece of work. When her struggle became too much, she would walk me onto an airplane and send me to my grandparents. This is the reason I'm so close to my family, and Mom's independence and ability to overcome her struggles was passed on to me.

For years I've driven by this apartment and watched as it got new paint jobs, new flowers in the yard, new curtains in the windows. Eventually, some of the neighboring apartments were torn down and up went shopping strips of furniture and children's toy stores. Then today, some 44 years after I lived there, as I drove back in time, my old apartment itself has been turned into a store! It's now an annex of the very store that overtook the neighboring buildings.

These door used to the our covered parking space.

I had planned to park and take some photos, afraid that one day soon, I'd drive by and it would be gone. But I guess that apartment had good bones, for there it was, just as I remembered it, except that the front yard was now paved for cars to park and people shopped for home goods in the place where all my oldest memories were formed. If they only knew! I went inside; something I'd longed to do for oh, so many years.

I walked into what used to be my living room. I could still see the Christmas tree and remember asking Mom how Santa was going to enter without our having a chimney. She told me he had magic keys and would walk in the front door, which was now blocked by a table showing off fancy plates and glassware. This was the room where I discovered Batman on TV, would first watch The Wizard of Oz and laugh at the antics of The Three Stooges before leaving for school (the Montessori school I attended is still there). This was the room my father got into an argument with a man my mother was dating. It made me cry, as it was the first time I realized that my father was flawed.

It was in this corner Mom had our Christmas tree.

As I walked to where my bedroom used to be, I could see where the window was, now blocked by a shelf full of stemware. The space between our apartment and the building next to it has been connected, so instead of the large bushes just outside are now candles and fancy candle holders. That window was home to the air conditioner, that beautiful machine. I loved the sound it made, lulling me to sleep and the cold breeze it provided on sultry Texas nights.

The window of my bedroom used to have a large bush.

Suddenly, I realized that I was standing in the place where, each night, I would lie my head and fall into dream land. The glasses on the shelves blurred through the tears forming in my eyes. I could still see the walls that were now gone, and the posters I had hanging over my bed; see the hole in the ceiling of the bathroom that fell in after the upstairs flooded. (I was able see the upstairs neighbor's tub when that happened!)

You can see where the walls were. Upper right was the corner of my bedroom; left was the kitchen.

To my right was where my Mom's room was. I could still see her teasing her hair in front of the mirror in the corner. Beyond her room was the small 1-car covered parking space. And behind me was where our kitchen used to be, the same kitchen Mom worked so hard on to paint...yellow and orange, if I remember correctly. She was such an artistic rebel!

Standing in Mom's bedroom, the kitchen was on the left and my room was behind that column.

From the living room looking to the back of the apartment.

Now, it was all a huge showroom for Kuhl-Linscomb, a top-end design and lifestyle store. The hardwood floors were now stained concrete, but one can still see where the walls used to be. So many memories from 44 years ago came flooding back as I looked around. This is where I learned to tie my shoes. This is where I watched Carol Burnett. This is where Mom cut her wrist on broken glass and I remembered how badly I felt for her while she cried as we drove to the hospital. This is where I lived when I first went to Astroworld (gone), first went ice skating at the Galleria, first ate wonderful greasy burgers at the Purple Cow down the street from Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips (both gone). 

Where the bathroom used to be. You can see the hole in front of the column where the toilet was.

The thrill I had in riding my bike up the parking garage of the building around the block, the top from which I could see the Astrodome, was still with me. I loved that damned building with it's magical light-up scoreboard with fireworks displays, eventually removed for more seats; yet another sad change from my childhood. Some of the quirky apartment homes in the neighborhood that I loved remain, but many have been torn down and converted to townhomes. How times have many 4 and 5 year-olds ride their bikes without supervision in the busy streets of Houston today? 

Of the quirky apartment buildings still stands a block away.

So if you find yourself in building 3 of K-L looking at wine glasses, this is where a very young Penguin would attempt to make himself appear hot at night so Mom would turn on my air conditioner, allowing me to sleep better. (To this day, I still sleep with a fan at night.) Take care of my apartment Kuhl-Linscomb. I want to come back and visit again. The old apartment has changed. But so have I...and Mom, too. Just like that home to a single mother struggling to make ends meet and raise her son, now a quaint shop of high-end home d├ęcor, we've come a long way and are doing much better for ourselves. And don't worry about Santa, he's gotten in just fine before!

Where this pickup is parked used to be a large bush under which I would play with Yvette and Dallas.

1 comment:

  1. Very sweet Penguin, I can see you in my mind's eye as a little boy learning, playing, growing.