Thursday, March 25, 2010

The House with the Weeping Willow on East 32nd St.: Part I




Parking-Lot Autocross on a Sunday in July, 1968; me in 356A

Early Spring, early 1970s, by the apple tree

I'm not sure precisely when I got the house of East 32nd Street in Eugene, OR. I simply began looking for houses in the Classified Ads of the Eugene Register Guard. With a car I no longer needed to be within walking distance of the university. Without too much trouble I went to the home of relatives of a young family who had had to move to Alaska, they said for the health of one of the children. In any case, the house could be leased with option to buy, meaning that there was no down payment, the first year's rent would count as payments on the principle, and I was assuming only the remainder owed on the mortgage. In short, they had to unload the house. So I bought a house, built to post-War FHA specifications, living room, dining room, kitchen, bath, and two bedrooms, with a hall running from the front door to the bathroom door (its only serious flaw). The garage was attached, the back porch was enclosed, and a new gas furnace was installed in a closet in the kitchen. The lot was 110 feet deep, back to an alley, and there was a dense hedge of blackberries there. In the yard were an apple tree grafted to bear early "Transparents", then Gravensteins, then Newton Pippins, then red Delicious (a late apple), and a prune tree. In a declivity in the center there was a stand-pipe with a faucet. In fact, a rivulet, a small creek, had once openly run through my lot, and probably that fact and the root system of the willow tree were the cause of the rotted main foundation timbers on the NE corner, so that it was part of the deal that I would have that corner and the porch stabilized, which I did. When I say, built to FHA standards, anyone my age will know that the letter of the law as to number of closets, width of hallway, number of electrical outlets, and the like, was strictly adhered to, while the grade of timbers and anything else that could be scotched could become a problem by the time the house was 25 years old.
The early Spring photo at the head of this posting shows me with my friend Jean's black cat, Angus, by the apple tree. There were so many prune-plums in late summer that one couldn't even give them away. Continuing to live out my postponed adolescence, I became a pretty good frisbee player in the long back yard. In the front yard, bad for the house's foundations but beautiful, was a large weeping willow, its branches (though occasionally trimmed) reaching the ground, a place for summer picnic lunches outdoors. One year I had the help in keeping the house in order of the French wife of a graduate student in English literature, who came twice a month and brought her little boy with her; there are slides, somewhere, of them picnicking in the shade of the willow, along with my own black cat Jason (I had been using Greek myths for my cats' names for years). I'll scan and post one here if I can find them. Anyhow, I had a house of my own, and it cost only $8,600; my monthly payments, which decreased as the principle did, eventually were only about $80.  I had a home of my own, but I wouldn't have a washer and dryer of my own until I got my present home in Louisiana.
Just south on East 34th were the Langs, the son, Bob, being one of my best friends among my coevals on the faculty. By this time, I had a real network of variously related friends in Eugene, some of them now from St. Mary's Episcopal Church, one of whom was Jean, who later became a Mormon but whom I knew because she sometimes served as organist at church. But some of my friends were gay, too, and some of those from Church, for that matter, were gay. Others were as agnostically humanistic as I had been. Of these, one was my lover for quite a while, and I got to know the guys from his fraternity, too.  Several of them had rented a house near campus; to the tune of "Alice's Restaurant" we celebrated when one of them, to avoid the army draft, joined the Navy.  We made with poster paint on butcher's paper a sign the full width of the house in order to document our party for his departure; it said, in letters two feet high, FUCK THE NAVY, and we all lined up beneath it.  I had my Nikon F on a tripod with the timer set to 10 seconds and a place was left for me to run into just in time.  The neighbors across the street called the Eugene police, who came, a nice young officer as young as any of the fraternity members.  We explained the occasion and invited him to get in the picture, too.  He couldn't keep a straight face, but he had to refuse.  My dearest friend of all, M. D. Ross, of my mother's birth cohort, watched all of such socializing unbecoming a professor without nagging me about it, never a part of that intricate network of younger friends, most of them in fact also younger than I was. None of us thought of ourselves as hippies, certainly, but the late 60s indeed is the decade in question. Anyone who wishes to could call all this "finding oneself", but I did not engage in the inspection of my own navel, as the saying was, until later and for other reasons.
Shopping now was easy, not only because of the car but because a new Albertson's, of the then new and still Mormon grocery chain, opened only three or four blocks away, and then a large Safeway opened up the hill and farther south, while we still had the nice family-owned small grocery up where East 32nd met Willamette. There was a steak-and-salad eatery up on Willamette, too (where on Sunday afternoons several times the Emerald Empire Sports Car Club ran parking-lot autocrosses in assorted sports cars, beetles, mini-coopers, and so on; for real autocrosses we had to go over to the desert; for rallyes we used Oregon's quarter roads and others of later origin all over the Willamette Valley and up into the Coast foothills). It was at a car show near Roseburg, OR, where (quite unqualified) the Emerald Empire Sports Car Club was serving as judges of the restored antique cars, in the public room of the resort motel where it was held, we watched the first Apollo moon landing.
One winter, perhaps 1968, Oregon had serious snow, as Washington DC had this year: it was 2 feet deep on the roof of my little FHA house, so that after boys were hired to shovel it off the house had to be re-roofed; Croesus the cat had gone under the house (not just on brick pillars as in Louisiana, but with enclosed foundations) and after a couple of days when I had to imagine him entombed in snow as the inhabitants of Pompeii had been in ash I heard a pitiable mewing and, estimating the location of the opening to the under-house where he was wont to enter, I shoveled and shoveled and out he came, indignant and hungry. In that snow, it was impossible to drive my 356A Porsche (very second hand but the most fun I ever had with a car and a joy on the Interstate, when the speed limit was 80 and the Porsche cruised at 80-plus and never got stopped), because with streets of frozen ruts and ridges it just got hung up. I hiked into campus, over three miles, in ski pants and boots I'd bought in England, serious boots with thick soles and fleece lining.
Now, I have mentioned many things that I haven't tried to deal with. I only mean to show that by most standards I finally lived a normal American life in Eugene, Oregon. And I do love the memory of almost everyone that I knew. For a second post, I'll try to organize my memories a little better, because I've left out many things of more substance, and I never kept a diary. Indeed, this blog is my first venture of any such kind.
I see that I tend to think that everything happened in 1968. Probably not everything, though a lot did, and not only in the nation at large.