For over a month, I carried boxes, one at a time, to the house across the street and piled them into the dining room space. We are temporarily renting this house so our current house (shown in photo above) can be torn-down and rebuilt. In June, the movers arrived and moved all the furniture. We began to sleep across the street as the old house stood, awaiting its total removal.
Chauffeuring my two daughters and their friends around was always an eye-opening experience. Somehow it was forgotten that I was in the car and I was privy to many insider conversations. I could overhear the latest gossip, like who likes who or the latest injustice, like the stupid assignment demanded by an unfavorable teacher. Sometimes, I’d be included in the discussion for some topics seem easier to discuss without direct eye-contact. The bubble of the car was conversation heaven.
I had a similar car ride experience last May, yet those involved were not teenagers but octogenarians. I was driving my 80 year old mother and her friends to a birthday dinner at a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C.. All those in the car, including my mom, had grown up in D.C.. As we passed landmarks, they shared their memories while I drove.
“How did we survive without AC?” my mother asked as we drove in my air-conditioned Subaru on a Saturday afternoon in May when the temperature on the dashboard read 92 degrees.
“My brother and I would go to Rock Creek Park and sleep there overnight on hot days,” one women remarked. “You probably can’t do that today.”
“You just camped out?” I asked, thinking how that doesn’t sound like a safe thing to do.
“It was a different time and the park, with all those trees, was so much cooler on a hot night,” she answered.
“That house reminds me of Dr. Brennan’s row house on my block,” another said as she pointed to a row house with a corner tower on its right side. “His house was the first with an indoor bathroom.”
“Your house didn’t have indoor plumbing?” I asked.
“Not until I started school,” she replied. “I remember we were all a little skeptical about using an inside bathroom. We were used to the outhouse.”
“That’s where I got the bus to ride back home after school,” a third friend said pointing to a street corner. “I remember how my mom gave me a dime each morning to ride the bus home. But I wanted to buy candy from the candy store that was on that corner. So I would. Then I’d stand at the bus stop and cry. When asked why, I said I’d lost my dime and can’t ride the bus. Someone would always feel sorry for me and give me a dime.” Laughter filled the car after hearing that third story.
I kept driving through the city with these friends who grew up in a different time. I wondered what stories I might tell 30 years from now. What memories might I share while being chauffeured?
Last week, I returned to make sure nothing was left behind. My footsteps echoed loudly. I snapped pictures with my camera of each empty room. I remembered moving to Arlington when Bridgit was in 4th grade and Anne in 1st. Now Anne graduates college this May. Thinking back, so many meals in the dining room, so many chocolate chip cookies baked in the kitchen, so many Christmas tress glowed in the living room. All four of us, on a morning schedule, allowed for adequate use of the one bathroom. As I snap the last picture, I thought to myself, “This really is a good home”. But as Brian said in the certified letter to the neighbors alerting them to the tear-down and new construction, “After more than 80 years of service, our home at 5218 North 12th Street has reached the end of its functional life. Rather than subject it to the indignity of additions and alterations, we have decided that replacement is the most responsible option.” So down it will come.
Before, I used to focus on all the negatives of this house – no central A/C in the summer, drafty windows in the winter, no space to invite friends over to entertain. All these things will be remedied in our newly designed 21st century energy-efficient house. But now, looking back, I realize that those six rooms served our family so well for so many years.