Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finding Home: Walnut Avenue

My sister, two and a half years my senior and the youngest of the four Big Kids, insists I always hid my glasses in the sandbox and she had to search for them. I was born cross-eyed and have worn glasses since I was about three years old (except during my vain years, when I only wore them to read, fumbling along the rest of the time). The sandbox must have been at the Walnut Avenue house - nice yard, lots of space - but Dad could have built one at the Shorewood house as well.
My father built almost every house I lived in throughout the seventeen years I was with my first family and almost every house he and my mother shared during their fifty-year marriage. All but one. The Walnut Avenue house in the Admiral District of West Seattle was the only exception.

The house Dad didn't build stands regal on a curved, tree-lined residential street. The color seems familiar, as if still dressed in the original paint, though I know this is impossible. The backyard still abuts the deep, undeveloped Fairmount Ravine these sixty years later. In the mid-1950s when my folks owned this house, the street hosted perhaps half the number of houses now crowding the once spacious lots a half block from Hiawatha Park and Community Center, two blocks from Lafayette Elementary School, three from West Seattle High School.

My siblings and I did not attend my father's alma mater having moved to the Issaquah Valley before any of us reached our teens. Attendance at West Seattle High School skipped a generation. Only my daughter followed my father's footsteps.

When is memory real? When is it based on photos and family lore? I cannot claim a solid memory of digging holes in a sandbox to hide glasses I didn't want to wear, but my sister claims I did just that. And more than once. In a family of older kids keeping an eye on younger kids, she'd know. It was her job to keep those glasses on my stubby nose.

My four older siblings attended Lafayette Elementary School. They walked the two blocks together, and I was left behind. Too young for kindergarten, I stayed home with a mother who lost one child to miscarriage before my birth and another after. A mother whose husband left Seattle to work on a pipeline in Ketchikan, Alaska when I was two years old. I have no idea how long he was gone, just as I have no memory of my mother's grief. Still, as a woman and a mother myself, I am certain that despite her German stoicism, my mother suffered deeply. Alone, we must have shared long hours of pain after my older siblings skipped off to school. But the house, the beautiful graceful house, was not to blame.
Of all the places I have lived, the Walnut Avenue house is the one I'd like to re-enter. I can see myself on the front porch or climbing the wide curving staircase to the second floor, my hand sliding along the polished mahogany. One day I will garner the nerve to knock on the front door. "I once lived here," I will say. "Should you ever decide to sell, please let me know." I will offer a card with name and phone number, and I will cross my fingers that they invite me inside.

No comments: