From home to home: Day 8

Got in yesterday (Sunday), around noon, a week exactly after leaving Santa Barbara.

The trip could hardly have been easier, considering. The weather was pretty much perfect, every day. The car, which turned past 120,000 miles in Arches National Park, ran smoothly and with no complaints. The dashboard says “EMISSIONS WORKSHOP”, with a little “check engine” light that means the same thing. It’s been that way for months, and was supposed to be fixed by the VW dealer before we left Santa Barbara, as part of its routine 120,000 mile workup ($639), but that didn’t happen. It also didn’t make any difference.

The apartment is the top two floors of a typical Boston-area house built in 1920, and lovingly maintained by a landlady who prepared it more than well. We bought a few items from the prior tennants (such as the desk on which I’m typing this now), and Halley also provided us with some very helpful provisions from her surplus collection of cookware and other household goods. But we’re still short of about 99% of the furniture we’ll need.

We oriented in the afternoon to the nearest Costco, Target, Peet’s and Trader Joe’s, which are our base-level desert island requirements. We visited Costco and Target late in the afternoon, and found both to be about 2x the size of any we’ve met in California. Those will help while we tool around from one garage sale to another today. Meanwhile we’re camping here on air mattresses.

It’ll be good to get Verizon’s FiOS fiber optic internet service, but it won’t get here until the 11th. Meanwhile we’re on with EvDO. (One of us uses the card, and turns the laptop into a wi-fi bridge for the other one — it’s a kluge, but it works okay.)

It’s fun to be in a house of the same vintage as the ones I remember from when I was a kid in New Jersey. First was my grandmother’s house on Hoyt Avenue in Fort Lee, a stone’s throw from the George Washington Bridge. My grandfather (born in 1863, during the Civil War) built that house around the turn of the last century. It was typically Victorian: tall (with two apartments — one each for the top two floors), long and narrow. It was high off the ground so there was room for a delivery truck to dump coal through a chute into a bin in the basement. This is the house where my parents were living when I was born in 1947, and I believe it was still heated with coal when we lived there. I can remember the coal pile, in any case. Grandma lived there until I was eight years old and I remember the place vividly.

Our next house was on Edel Avenue in Maywood, not far up Route 4 (“root faw”). That one was built in 1920 and a good bit smaller: 17×23, including the porch. It was heated by oil that produced steam for radiators in each room. In spite of its small size, it was better than three stories high, with a full basement and an attic. We lived there until I was six. I remember that house vividly as well, which is why our apartment reminds me of it. There’s the oil heat in the basement, the front porch with latticework underneath, the steep stairs to each floor, the little nook & cranny storage areas beneath the triangular spaces outside the attic and under the roof.

I’m writing this from the attic in our apartment; and though it’s a lot longer than the Edel Avenue house, it still has the same look & feel — even the same old-wood smell when you open the storage spaces. Funny to think that the old Edel Avenue house was only 28 years old when we moved there in 1948.

Our next house was on Woodland Avenue in Maywood, a few blocks form Edel. It was new in 1953, and almost identical to every other new house that went up on that block at the same time.

Two of those three houses of ours are now gone. The Ft. Lee house was cleared to make room for access roads to the lower deck of the George Washington Bridge, back in the mid-1960s. And the Woodland Avenue house was bulldozed several years ago so the new owners could put a new house there. I just learned from an old friend and former next door neighbor that all the big trees in our lot — a wild cherry, a locust and a maple, have all been taken down. We planted the maple and the locust. The Wild cherry was there when we moved in, and I used to climb the thing almost daily. My mother made jam from the berries, which were almost too tart to eat raw. I’m more bummed to learn about the trees than the house. Even though it hardly matters. (And who knows… maybe the house and the trees were all shot by now.)

Here in New England they’re more conscientious about saving the old stuff. Not that they succeed every time; but it’s nice to know it’s somewhere in the value system.

Tomorrow I start as a residential fellow (at least in the literal sense) at the Berkman Center. Can’t wait to take the bus there.

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