10/17/2007

1934 Ninth Street

There is a lot of mansionizing going on in our neighborhood. Porches are back. That's one of the most striking additions I notice. Porches make a house look familiar to me, more like a home. And, why not. When I was growing up houses all had porches from small stoops with a roof over it to wide wrap-around porches with railings and pillars.

Porches were wonderful places for kids. Sanctuaries. Private places for kid games, day dreaming, reading or anything else you could think up. On a rainy day you could ride a tricycle or a scooter from one end to the other, unless is was just a stoop. Then you could just stand outside and watch the rain.



We were living in this house on Ninth Street in Charlotte on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and "we" went to war. I was five years old - my sister Lynda was 3 and sister Kathy was only four months old. We were unaware that big changes were ahead in our lives.

That Christmas Santa Claus brought me a child sized metal sink. You put water in a little tank on the back and then you could turn the teeny tiny tap on and water would run into the sink. It made a big impression on me. And probably a big mess for Mama to clean up.

Sometime that winter it snowed. The first snow I had ever seen. large white flakes drifting down from the sky turning everything white and making the world look like a fairyland. Just a dusting really but Mama was excited and she went out and shook the snow into a bowl. I watched as she added sugar and milk and made what she called "snow cream." It tasted sweet and delicious. There was so little snow that it was gone almost as soon as it came.

A few years ago I heard that one of the houses on Pecan Avenue, three blocks from 9th street, was being used as a Bed and Breakfast. "Please, Jim. Please." What an opportunity. A chance to actually "Be" in my childhood neighborhood for a couple of days.

My part of the Elizabeth Section has not changed - not one bit. The 1920s and 30s houses are popular and so they are well kept. The old oaks still line the sidewalks, and the acrons crunched under our feet as we walked.

Pecan Avenue takes its name from the pecan trees that line the sidewalks and drop their nuts onto the ground. I picked up one and the shell was thin, hard to break open and when you did there wasn't much "good" inside. Just like they had been when my small hands with stubby fingers and no fingernails worked so hard to pry something out of them all those years ago.

We strolled the sidewalks where I had walked everywhere as a kid. I was a "free range" kid - a rover of the neighborhood. A large square of the Elizabeth Section was my territory. Mama's mother lived on one side of the square and Daddy's mother lived on another - with aunts and uncles sprinkled in between. Granny, Mama's mother, lived on East Seventh Street. I knew the blocks near her best and all the sidewalks leading to her house were my heart lines.

Jim and I stopped at the site that used to be my grandmother's house at 2308 East Seventh Street - eight blocks away . It is now an asphalt parking lot on Seventh Street. The walking really thrust me back into the space. Memories flooded over me. Some of those memories were so sweet they made me ache with longing - for those times and places and people who have gone.

Stanley's Drugstore at the corner of Pecan Avenue and Seventh Street is now a Starbucks. While we drank our coffee I told Jim that Daddy bought my first pair of metal roller skates from Doc Stanley, "right here" and how I used to walk up, come in, sit on the floor and read the comics. Doc and his brothers never minded. I remembered how fast I ran to the safety of this familiar place after the "man" exposed himself to my horrified eyes just two blocks away when I was walking home from Granny's. Bewildered, scared and too embarrassed by what I had seen to tell anyone, I read comics until I felt it was safe to continue on toward home. I guess I was about 10 years old.

The first night we were there I was laying in the bed reading when I heard the train.

Ofcourse, the train.

There is a train crossing over Pecan Avenue. I heard the mournful call of the engine announcing itself and then the rhythmic rolling acoss the tracks.

I had forgotten this background music of my childhood. Nothing made me feel as at home as the sound of that train rolling on its way.