Home for the Holidays

Perhaps you’ve played with the Arcade Fire’s new interactive video by now? The house you grew up in.  A little cliché (which I’m all about really) and something I never thought much about until recently. Wait until I’m truly middle-aged (or would that be now, and this is just a symptom?) and it’s going to be one sick nostalgia jack off.

My childhood home

I would consider 1790 Tegart Avenue in Gresham, Oregon to be the house I grew up in. We had an on again off again relationship that started when I was five and lasted until my junior year in high school. At two points in middle school I temporarily lived in an apartment with my mom and sister and in that same time frame the whole family also rented a different house on the other side of town because my dad's future wife's sister's family was living in this house. We reclaimed it when I was in high school.

The house was originally maize-colored (then later cream with green trim) and surrounded by nothing but dirt. We planted the grass and built the fence in front and back and the windowseat sticking out on the right. I don't even remember a tree being in the yard. Almost exclusively single-stories, the neighborhood looks extremely flat and washed out.

Just like celebrities in person, this house was much smaller than it had loomed in the big screen of my mind. This, I discovered on a rare Oregon visit last Labor Day weekend. Yes, I was often envious of my friends’ multi-storey homes—playing with a Slinky was impossible minus stairs, and lacking a standard issue family room meant watching TV with schoolmates always involved my parents too—but I didn’t realize this was all happening in 1,008 square feet. Fine for a city apartment, but hardly a suburban dream home.

Last weekend I saw the only condo that James has considering going back to for a second walk-through. It’s a contender. It’s also 2,259 square feet.

Burlingame apartment side

This Labor Day weekend I went back further in time to an apartment in Burlingame, California. We moved in shortly after I was born and headed to Oregon in time for me to start preschool in a new state. I shouldn’t remember much of it, but I do, if only snippits.

This neighborhood was the site of an infamous never forgotten complaint that’s since turned comical. Carless, my mom would drag me all over on errands (I only recently asked why I didn’t have a stroller—Brooklyn kids don’t seem to have to use their legs until at least grade school aged) till my feet would fall asleep (I remember taking off my shoes on the front stairs thinking I had sand in them; it was just the pins and needles effect) and I would complain about being thirsty. Pre water bottle-era, I was told, “Drink your saliva.” Ha, if anyone ever questions my lack of empathy for others it can be encapsulated in that moment. Too bad, sucker. So sorry.

Rattle Burlingame memories:

Hiding behind a couch during an adult party, eating milkless Fruity Pebbles in a bowl.

Using this plastic sunflower-shaped rattle to try and cut a slice from a bar of soap like they did with a pocket knife in an Irish Spring commercial, but just mauling the soap. Clean as a whistle. I can’t find any pre-‘80s commercials online.

Meeting a girl named Samantha in the playground next door, and her telling me she was having roast beef for dinner.

Funny Face cups and my dad’s lunch-sized bags of chips having different bird species on the label (must have been a promo).

A nearby restaurant called Nini’s that we never ate at, but the name made me laugh. Unbelievably, it’s still there and had a Brooklyn brunch sized crowd waiting outside when we drove by. I associate the word Nini’s with “wheee,” which I’d shriek when coming into the neighborhood from a sharp circular curve on the freeway offramp. I don’t remember living one block from said freeway, which I noticed in 2010 and did not in 1975.

Employing piled up JCPenney and Sears catalogs to reach the toilet.

My grandpa, who was a truck driver, stopped by one early morning when it was still dark and got me out of bed to show me that it was snowing. 

I called my mom’s sister tia on the same outdoor staircase where I shook out my shoes, trying out Sesame Street level Spanish. Squeezing in a second language then would’ve saved so much time and money now. But my dad didn’t speak Spanish.

The most distinct memory that I know wasn’t just reformed in my brain from seeing photos after the fact, is of my newborn sister being brought home from the hospital and being so excited and jumping up in the air next to my mom, trying to get a peek inside the blanket bundle as she carried her through the parking lot up to our apartment.

I don’t have many childhood photos in my possession anyway (I imagine anyone born post-digital camera boom will have the opposite problem). Just a small manila envelope with Jr. Garcia, my father’s nickname, written on the top, containing family shots with my dad that my mom cast off on my last visit, and shoebox passed along from my dad’s third wife after he died. I divvied up the sole inheritance between my sister and myself. (At least when my grandpa died I received a grocery bag of generic cigarettes, a gallon of peach schnapps and boxes and boxes of unopened colored pencils. That’s what I call dividing up an estate.)

Victoria playground

Somewhere there’s a photo of my sister and I in the mid-‘70s, sitting at the bottom of a slide in this park next door to the apartment, me behind with her sort of in my lap. There’s a reenactment from around 1983 where I’m chubby, feather-haired and in a poof-shouldered sweater (minus the hair, not much has changed). If I enjoyed participating in internet antics, I would’ve lured my sister to California for a third incarnation. Now the slides are short, plastic and safe, not the towering metal spindles that used to be there.

I hated that slide, and am still terrified by heights. My mom spent time playing “sack of potatoes,” physically holding me like a bulbous bag while repeating that phrase and guiding me down the length of the slide in hopes that I would have fun and be encouraged to climb to the top and let go of my own accord. Did not happen. I would frustrate me to no end if I were my own toddler.

Somewhere else there is a photo of my birthday party in this park, Victoria Park. Second? Third? In the background there’s a boy from the neighborhood. This boy is the brother of my mom’s husband, who she met two decades later in Portland when he stumbled drunk into our unlocked apartment, confusing it with his own across the street.

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