The street I lived on
Over the years, I have taken trips to my past–places where I grew and went to school and places I used to go for fun like Glen Echo. As I have gotten older the trips seem to mean more to me then in years past. I thought I would share one of these trips with you.
I remember an old song from a musical called My fair Lady The opening of the song went a little like this, “I have often walked down this street before.” Though it’s a song about falling in love to me it has other meanings that come floating back. Whenever I hear that song it conjurs up the struggles of growing from childhood to manhood.
The street I am going to talk about is R Street in Northwest Washington. I lived in mid block in an apartment house known as The Terrain Apartments. My mother and I lived there from about 1948 to 1951. I started the first grade in 1949 when I was seven. Since my birthday fell late in the year I had to wait a year to start school. The street, like many in D.C., is small and with cars parked on both sides of the street it was fun to sit and watch the cars trying to get past each other.
When I sat out front I watched the people as they walked by, some stopped to say hello. We lived on the fifth floor of the apartment building and had what was called a studio apartment, which was one big room. The kitchen was like a small galley on a sail boat and the tub and sink took up what was a very tiny bathroom. I remember the smell of the sauces that mother cooked. Looking out the window I could see 16th Street which always had a lot of traffic on it. I loved watching the cars, cabs and buses roiling up and down the street. At night the room would be dark except from the lights from the street. I would lie in bed and listen to the radio shows such as Gang Busters and The Whistler, some how the stories made me feel that the room was even darker then it was.
When I started school, my mother walked me down 16th Street to Rhode Island Ave., then on to the school. A lot of the times I walked to school by myself. I walked from R Street down to The Circle on 16th Street and a right turn brought me to the little Catholic school which today seems small but to a seven year old kid it looked big. As I walked through those doors and gave the nun a slip of paper pinned to my little jacket I knew even then that a new part of my little life was about to start.
The reason I love this street so much was that it was like the beginning of a new world. The start of school and the every day meeting of people just walking up and down 16th Street started to open up a new world to me.
Last year I took a trip back to that street and sat on the stoop in front of the apartment house like I had done many times when I was a kid growing up. Now there is parking on just one side of the street and it has become a one way street. The apartment building has also undergone work and the entrance is not the same. The manager of the apartment came out to see if he could help me. I told him how my mother and I lived there and how she worked part time on the switch board. I told him about the studio apartment on the fifth floor.
“I’ve got something to show you,” he said. He took me up to the fifth floor and in mid hall there was the apartment. It was all still there. The apartment was for rent. If I had the money I would have rented it on the spot. He let me stand there for a few minutes while he did other things. How wonderful it felt, it was like for a brief moment I was truly home again. A flood of memories came running back and for a second or two I wished that I could go back in time and start the journey over again, but I could not. I left the apartment feeling both happy and sad. I was happy that I got a chance to see the old place and I was a little sad that I had to leave it. I believe Thomas Wolfe who said you can’t go home again was half right and half wrong. You can go home again but you can not stay.