Friday, August 28, 2009

Sister's Wedding; Kittredge Street rooms

Self at Grandparents', San Luis Obispo, still Undergraduate
Having just reported, indirectly, that my sister and her Bill were married in 1954 and in that year were working at San Pablo Poultry, now seems the right time to report on movements in 1954-1955. I cannot remember whether I moved to Kittredge Street (between Shattuck Ave. and Fulton Street, into a curious two part, two storey house then next to—i.e., on the north side of the street—a United Artists movie theater) from 2622 College first or quit work at the poultry market first. The fixed points are that I entered UC Berkeley in the Spring of 1954 and that Lorna and Bill were married on December 1, 1954 and, shortly after their marriage, they too got a room in the building on Kittredge. Some time in 1955 that building was demolished to make way for a parking lot. Today, it seems from the Google map, the United Artists movie theater has been replaced by a Great China Restaurant, at 2115 Kittredge St., and there seems to be surface excavation where most of the parking lot was. The two part, two storey house , probably beginning of 20th century, had a corridor down the depth of each half of it on each floor, and the halves were joined by transverse halls about halfway from front to back, on which, as I recall, the shared baths and toilets also were located. I took a room just north of the transverse hall on the upper floor, and my friend Nancy took one nearer to the front, but just south of the transverse connecting hall, both of us in the western half. The structure can never have been anything but a rooming house.  Lorna and Bill took a room (or two rooms I think) at the rear, north end of the eastern half. Somehow, Lorna set up housekeeping and did her laundry; there were, I do recall, pulley lines running from an upper-floor porch or window. I think that Lorna and Bill found an alternative dwelling, with a bit more privacy, before I left Kittredge. I didn't leave until days before they began razing it. One night, in the course of its demolition, I could look, from Fulton Street as we walked past, into the building that had only the west wall standing and see the dark rose plaster of my room; I went and climbed over debris and got as a souvenir a hunk of the rose-colored plaster: the months at Kittredge Street had been personally momentous, and I fancied having something to keep. Each of us, for $5 power surcharge per month, had a hot plate in the corner by the wash basin in our room (but there must have been stationary tubs somewhere, either in the room with a bath or at the back, because Lorna did do real laundry). I joined the ranks of all the bohemian young women who had learned to cook, rather well, on a hot plate that hadn't even a heat control. Dishes were drained on a terrycloth towel on the same table as I, or we, by turns ate and drew and studied at. The rug was old, the furniture was large, heavy, and old, the walls (as I said) were a deep dusty rose; the ceilings were high, the windows tall. I remember now: there was a newer block-shaped building, unless it was a side-rear extension of the theater, between my windows and the theater (one doesn't forget the daily serenade of French horn and trumpet lessons; it all comes back, when, in memory, I look through the ecru machine lace curtains). It was perfect. It was everything that Mrs. Puerta's house was not. It was perfect for me, and for a while. It must have been hard on Lorna, but neither of us stayed there a long time. It afforded David and me an ideal, an idealized, romantic first love, a perfect atmosphere. The film, based on Jean Cocteau's Enfants Terribles, in English called The Strange Ones, with the 4-piano recording of Bach's 4-harpsichord version of Vivaldi's 4-violins concerto running through its soundtrack had been distributed by then, but I don't know whether we'd seen it yet. That kind of atmosphere. Besides David's being gay, we both were still adolescents, and I, for my part, was ready for loving but not for an adult relationship. It was quite consistent with going after that hunk of plaster as Nancy and I went back to Durant (see next posting) from, as I recall, what we called 'sinning', which meant hot fudge sundaes at Edy's on Shattuck, 'Sinning' because it was real hot fudge on real ice cream topped with real whipped cream and chopped nuts.
Through it all, my friend Nancy tried to find a job that was not like working in a cannery or a poultry market and wasn't too repetitious, since she was trying to free herself from parental control. I saw that living on a thin shoestring, so to speak, and knowing that I was responsible, and I alone, for every choice that I made was glorious freedom. And so it is, provided only one is young and in good health and has some reason for a modicum of prudence. Through it all, Lorna was a good young wife, steady as can be.
At this period, my mother had joined Trinity Methodist Church in Berkeley. Lorna, at least, went with her. As the holidays approached, the church asked families to invite young air force men from Parks Air Force Base to their homes. My mother (armed, of course, with a San Pablo Poultry turkey) invited four. One of them was my future brother in law, Bill. This was (necessarily, I calculate) Christmas 1953. Eleven months later they were married in the small chapel of Trinity Methodist, a rather nice neo-Gothic church near the UC campus and downtown. It was, in my opinion, as most weddings ought to be, nice, very nice, but not expensive. It was almost like a movie. My grandfather, driving back to the house to bring the bride to the church, could not find his way back to the house, and the ceremony was delayed more than an hour. Both the bride's dress and the bridesmaids' dresses were home made, Lorna's white and her high school classmates' yellow with the maid of honor a sort of rust color. All of them looked really pretty. Lorna's dress, just as in a story, barely got hemmed in time. Bill, of course, had his dress uniform. Lorna reminded me the other evening on the phone that she had pled with me to be her maid of honor, and I had refused. I had forgotten that. I see now, in retrospect, that taking 18 credit hours at UC Berkeley and working 20 hours per week, and having no spare money at all (also, no access to a sewing machine and no great skill in sewing, apart from handwork), I couldn't have done it . I did love her wedding, though, more than if I'd been in it. I always have tended to be a spectator. I never had been to a wedding before, either. And mercifully nothing catastrophic happened to ruin it for them. Lorna told me on the phone that she still has her dress.
So there we were. I'd had three semesters in art school and was completing my second semester at UCB; I had almost decided to change from a Painting major or an Art History major (it was still simply Art with History or Studio concentration at Berkeley then, but it was in College of Letters and Sciences with its requirements, either way). I had considered majoring in French; it was my eagerness to continue French that contributed to my leaving CCAC for the University, but Art History was winning the day, and the first courses I took at the university were those that CCAC did not offer: Classical Antiquity and Far Eastern, then numbered Art 1A and Art 1D. So it was in the course of my residence on Kittredge Street that my professional future also proved to have been decided for me. I never have regretted it. I can hardly imagine not having studied Greek, which had attracted me ever since the Gideon Society pamphlet had shown me all those languages.
I think that the snapshot by my grandfather that I placed at the head of this posting dates from about this time.