What are the earliest memories of the place you lived in as a child? Describe your house. What did it look like? How did it smell? What did it sound like? Was it quiet like a library, or full of the noise of life? Tell us all about it, in as much detail as you can recall.
My earliest memories, when I was three, are little snapshots of the trailer where we lived in Fairmont, Minnesota. After that, the apartment in Minneapolis. But my first clear, consistent memories are of 1212 Oliver Avenue North in Minneapolis. It was the upstairs of a duplex. I loved it. There was a lot of wood, typical of those times. This would have been 1955-57, I think.
There were two bedrooms. My sister and I shared one, Mom and Dad the other. The bathroom was between the bedrooms, with a short hallway connecting those rooms. I remember the white ceramic fixtures in the bathroom. A big white tub up on claw feet. You could practically swim in it! The faucet handles on the sink were about as long as my pinkie finger, labeled with the words hot and cold so there could be no mistake. There was a metal medicine cabinet above the sink where we kept the toothpaste and other typical items of the day–iodine, mercurochrome, bandaids, Dad’s shaving equipment.
Across the narrow hallway was the kitchen. Linoleum floor, metal sink cabinet with a white porcelain sink. White metal cabinets for dishes and other equipment. Typical kitchen of that era, it would seem very primitive by today’s standards. We had a table with four chairs at one end of the kitchen, by the window. That’s where we ate most of our meals.
You turned right, out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Here’s where a lot of the woodwork was. Different than today, there were doors between a lot of the rooms, which would probably make me feel closed in now. In the dining room there was a built-in buffet, with drawers underneath and, I think, a mirror above, and then cabinets for Mom’s good dishes and decorative items. The buffet took up an entire wall. The wood was stained dark. I have no memory of what kind of wood it was.
There was a big dining room table and, I believe, four chairs. It was circular until the extra leaves were put into place for when there was company. I never liked to dust, still don’t, but I did kind of like getting down under that table and dusting off the carved pedestal feet of that table.
There was no door between the living room and dining room. It was a normal living room of the ’50’s, and nothing in particular stays in my memory except the day Dad brought home our first TV set–tiny little 8-inch screen in a huge cabinet.
It seems to me there were priscilla criss-cross curtain on the biggest windows. Mom loved that style, and used them in just about every house we lived in. She became an expert at turning a rented space into our own space, and those curtain were one of the things that spoke of home to me as they followed us from place to place.
One of the best memories of those two years was the neighborhood itself. The streets were lined with big old shade trees. There were lots of kids for us to play with, and we spent every minute we could outdoors. It was just a little over a block to the elementary school we attended, and the walk back and forth was fun and safe. We played in the school yard as well, putting together games of 500 and Workup. We didn’t need coaches, we didn’t need parents. We always knew whose parents were home so that if something did happen, we knew where to get help.
We were introduced for the first time to Jewish holidays. It was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and I remember my dad warning us that these kids were smart, and we were going to need to work hard to keep up with them. I was fascinated to learn about Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, and some others whose names I don’t remember. This wasn’t even ten years out from the end of WWII, and now, thinking back on it, I can’t help but wonder if there were any survivors of the camps that lived nearby. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
I remember those years as being fairly trouble-free, with lots of freedom along with housekeeping responsibilities that were expected of us because Mom worked full time. We were latchkey kids, with plenty of safety rules and reminders. Never open the door until you’re sure who it is on the other side. Never tell anyone over the phone that your parents are not home. Always keep your key on a string around your neck. Never take it off until you’re inside to stay. You can always call Mrs. Higgins if you need help.
Those were good times.