Saturday, March 7, 2009

"644" I guess was 10-15 years old when we lived there.  I did not see it again until 1990 when I took a long trip with a young friend in a tiny car, a Yugo, across most of the continent, to see, inter alia, the Pacific Ocean.  Houses wear well in California's Mediterranean climate, but I'd have had trouble recognizing this if I hadn't known the address.
A half century earlier (apart from having different trees in different places) 644 was white clpaboard with dark green trim.  Now it had pink synthetic siding with white trim and a different color on the roof as well; I think it had been dark gray John Mansville roofing (my mother always called things by their brand names, but remembering the color is my own).  Above all, though, it was altered as so many houses are by completely enclosing the porch that ran across the front.  To the height now covered by pink siding we had ordinary white porch railings. I have seen so many houses effectively expanded in this way.  One thing is unchanged: the chimney.  By losing my balance while running as a toddler I had run the point of the poker that hung by the fireplace almost through the bottom of my left cheek, where there is still a slight scar.  I do not remember that there was any other heating in the house, apart from cooking in the kitchen, but, after all, California doesn't need much.
Behind the front porch, there were a living room (with the fireplace) and a dining room.  Behind the living room were my parents' bedroom, then a small hall with a door to the bathroom and, at left, the door to the bedroom I shared with my sister.  Behind the remainder of the dining room was a very narrow kitchen, behind it a laundry with a stationary tub (viz., built in) and a wringer washer, and the back door to a rather long back yard, relative to the size of the house.  The rooms were not large.  I never saw post-Victorian houses when I was young with rooms larger than they strictly needed to be, so it is more noteworthy that all these houses had dining rooms.  Before television, houses had dining rooms, even if you earned less than $100 a month in a grocery or a dairy.  I estimate that 644 is about 40 feet wide.
When my sister was old enough to have a bed rather than the 'six-year crib', as they were called, which, besides, my infant brother would soon need, my grandfather who taught wood shop and was quite expert, built us twin beds and a chest of drawers of knotty pine.  As was fashionable then, it was finished by painting with flat white and rubbing that off to reveal the knots, then coating it with a tinted transparent varnish, semi-matte (glossy being thought tacky).  Since Disney's Snow White had just come out, he also made life-size (face-sized) cut-outs in 3/8" pine of the seven dwarves and colored them in transparent paint, using india ink to outline in black and, I remember their saying, white shoe polish for the white beard and the whites of the eyes.  These were hung, with eyelets screwed in at the top, all around the room.  I had a Dutch-girl appliqué bed quilt that my great grandmother had made for me.  So long as my sister had the six-year crib, I had the bed that my mother had had as a little girl, which was a spool bed, apple green with pink-and-white bunches of apple blossoms painted, I think, but perhaps decalcomania, on it.  I don't know what became of it.  Perfectly good things, however, were not trashed, so it must have been passed on to someone else.
There was a small area retained by a short retaining wall directly outside our back door.  Lower, a couple of  steps down,  there was a round, stone-walled fish pond.  Mosquitoes, though, could be a problem, and my grandfather had someone bring in a load of white beach sand, the Oceano kind, so that my sister and I had the finest sand pile imaginable.  When it had rained we had only to dig a bit for damp sand; when it hadn't the garden hose could moisten a patch, so we built mounds with tunnels through them.  I had a sunsuit that I adored.  A brown teddy bear and several alphabet blocks were embroidered in outline on  the cream-colored percale, bound with brown bias tape.  It was one piece, and this was before grippers, of course.  I remember when I outgrew it and protested that no, it wasn't too small, even as it cut into my crotch.  Then, of course, it disappeared, since I kept growing.
On the back of the garage, which was long enough to hold more than one car side by side, there were common red geraniums.  After the petals were gone we could take the little spears and make a slit in one, put the other through that, and have little scissors.  On the fence opposite that there was honeysuckle, which was sweet.  Once my little sister ate something off the hedge which was feared to be poison, and my mother administered egg white, then warm water, then mildly soapy water to make her vomit.  The berry she ate must have been harmless because she digested all of it, while I stood by feeling superior.  About halfway down the yard there a big bushy rose bush with rose-pink roses and, near a standing water tap, in season were purple stemmed common pink naked-lady amaryllis, which I have loved ever since, in preference to the glorious Dutch ones.  It is not easy to get that kind of bulbs.  At the back of the yard, and beyond the end of the garage, there was a prune tree, which seldom bore much.  At the very back we had a vegetable garden the last year that we were at 644.  Finally, in the very back corner, there were hens and chickens, succulents, and nasturtiums galore.
I should add that we sometimes saw common snakes, which came down from the mountain slope's grass, and we did have to watch out for black-widow spiders and call my mother if we thought we saw a spider that qualified as such.
In the front yard, near the end of the front walk was a rose trellis.  In our neighbor's yard but shading ours were a loquat tree and a pine tree with triple needles, long ones, which could be plaited.  At the edge in front was a camphor tree, easy to climb, whose leaves when crushed were very fragrant, at the lower corner of the lot a huge century plant, agave, which we treated with due respect, since it had serious spines.  Sometime between the inception of WPA and the War, they came and put in curbs and gutters and drains and paved the street.  That was fascinating, but we were told not to talk to the men, because "we don't know who they are".