Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Houses Once Again [More Memory Exercise] [Edited and Edited Again] Now With Notes and Errata!

[Note: this one will get more updates and editing as more memories return...]

[Update 9/11/2016: This post appears to be done though it could use some editing, and if I get around to it, I have an idea for drawing some of the interiors and the second floor floor plan. Eventually. I didn't think so much would come back. But there you are. Memories are like that, I guess...]

[Note in Addition: There's a good deal more material in this post now than there was when I started it over a week ago. Updates, corrections, additions, etc. One of the things I've noticed is that I appear to be focusing on a particular time period in these "Houses" posts -- 1960-1963 or thereabouts. As I do the memory exercises, so much comes back -- sensations: the sounds and smells, the feel of fine fabrics, silks and velvets, the quiet in the tall living room in the house below, the sound of the piano when I played it vs when my brother-in-law did -- I was not good, he was very good;  the overarching canopy of trees, big yellow leaves and spiky liquidambar seeds in the streets, the shimmering heat in the summer time, the perpetual fogs of the winter. I could go on and on describing the cascades of memory. This post would never end. The point that came to me, however, was that this place and a number of others during the period represented "stability" in the midst of what was really chaos, in my life certainly (there were all kinds of things going on in the background, some of them very unpleasant) but for many others as well. Thanksgiving period of 1963 of course represents a watershed-transformational epoch for the whole country, indeed, for the world. Nothing would ever be the same again. Perhaps in the end what I am focusing on in these posts without really trying to is the whole "stability" vs "chaos" vs "transformation" theme, which may in turn be a chief factor/theme in my life. Hmm. Will have to ponder it...]

This is where my sister lived during most of her first marriage. She married her first husband in 1956, and I think the house was sold in 1962 or 63. She divorced and remarried in 1965 and moved out to the country. [Memory trigger: my sister and her new [ie: second] husband lived in the house she bought with her first husband after the house above was sold. I'm not sure how long she and her second husband lived there, but it was probably a year or two before they sold that house and bought a property in the country. There may or may not have been a few stops in between. I remember several houses that were bought on spec to flip (back before house flipping became a thing) and they lived in them for a while, but I'm not sure of the sequence or when they were pit stops compared to the place in the country.... it may have been before or after. What I don't recall at all is if my sister got the 1962/3 house in the divorce settlement with her first husband. Maybe I never knew... Some things were not said...]

I don't have any interior photos of this house, unfortunately, but a few years ago one just like it was on the market in Greenwich, CT, and I snagged some pictures from that listing. As is my way, though, I've misplaced them, and so I will have to go by whatever memories I can recover without reference to contemporary or historic photographs.

The house in Greenwich was apparently the model on which this house was based. This house was built in 1924. Another house identical to the one above was featured in House and  Garden Magazine, March, 1922. It was built in Scarsdale, NY. If I do a diligent search, I can probably find that article online (I have seen it) but I'm being lazy at the moment, so I won't do the search now. I'll just say that I was told about the article probably the first time I saw this house, which would have been in 1957 when I first visited Northern California (the house is in Sacramento.) I'm not entirely sure, but I think I was told that plans for this house were offered through the magazine at one point and that's how a number of them came to be built around the country.

[I've done quite a bit of probing since I wrote that paragraph. Apparently, the architect for this house was A. J. Thomas who became an advocate of high-quality, low cost multi-family housing and was very well known for his work during and after WWI. As far as I can tell, the original model of this house was built in Scarsdale, NY in 1922, not in Greenwich, CT, as I previously believed. If I recall what I was told correctly (and who knows about that), the plans for the house in Sacramento came through an offering in House and Garden magazine (which would have been in 1923 or 1924) but I haven't found that yet. I'm surprised at what I have found, though. [I found records that say this house was built in 1923, but I distinctly recall being told it was built in 1924. I wouldn't be surprised if it was started in 1923 and completed in 1924. On the other hand, it seemed like it had been there forever.]

This is a close up of the front entrance of the house in Scarsdale that was published in House and Garden in March, 1922:

And this is a distant view of the same house published in American Architect magazine in February 1922:

Sorry I was unable to rotate it.]

The Greenwich house was considered "Norman" in style, while the Sacramento one is pretty much a hybrid Norman-Spanish Revival. They were identical houses, though, with the exception that the Greenwich house (and the Scarsdale house) had a slate roof and the Sacramento one had a tile roof. Over the years, both these houses were expanded, the Greenwich house quite a bit more than the Sacramento one, so that the Greenwich house is now much larger than that one -- probably close to twice the size. [Research indicates the Sacramento house has not been expanded, although there was an addition of a swimming pool and pool house. Parts of the interior have been significantly remodeled, but otherwise the footprint and residential square footage of the house is the same now as it was when it was built.]

Rough plan of the first floor of the Sacramento house:

While quite fancy, this house is not really all that large. It had/has three bedrooms and two and a half baths in the main quarters, plus a maid's room and bath in the service area. There is a spacious, tile-floored foyer leading to a center stair hall, which was a step up from the foyer. The stair hall and all of the rest of the first and second floors (except the kitchen, butler's pantry and bathrooms) had oak wood floors. To the left from the stair hall was an arched wood-paneled opening to the double height living room which had a huge bay window at the far end.

I recall there was a marble-topped iron or bronze based table in the entrance hall with a large mirror above it. The marble top was green with white veining. The table base and the mirror frame were painted gold. There was a coat closet to one side of the front door, a large casement window at the north end of the room -- a radiator was under it -- and in the opposite wall there was a door to the powder room, a tiny facility just large enough for a toilet and wash basin, with an itty-bitty casement window looking out beyond the fireplace chimney. The powder room smelled faintly of mildew.

Where you see the chimney in the exterior photo was a deep nook where the fireplace could, but usually didn't, blaze in the corner. The wall with the archway into the room (the arch consisted of two heavy timbers that were rough-carved into an arch)  was paneled in oak and featured built-in bookshelves and cabinets that were filled with dusty ancient (to me) volumes, many of them having to do with travel and missionary work in China.

This house, you see, had been built by my sister's husband's grandparents. He -- the grandfather -- was the manager of a local department store (Hales); she -- the grandmother -- was the daughter of missionaries.

The wall opposite the fireplace was penetrated by three french doors which led out to a screened loggia. It faced south northwest and kept the living room shady and cool no matter what the temperature was outside. Of course, being built in 1924, the house had no air conditioning, and it depended on orientation, shading, and cross ventilation to keep the interior cool during Sacramento's notoriously hot summers. I don't recall ever feeling particularly hot in the house no matter the temperatures outside, so whatever the builders figured out to deal with the heat seems to have worked.

Through the stair hall to the south [my orientation was wrong. The house faces east. The  dining room is on the west side of the house] was a large dining room. It also had a set of french doors onto the loggia. There was also a large shaded window onto the back yard. [Memory trigger: as I thought about this and visualized the dining room, more and more I thought that was an inadequate description. What I recall was a wide bank of full-height small-paned windows -- not quite wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. In the center was a pair of french doors leading out to a covered but unscreened patio that was almost as large as the dining room itself. I take it that this patio was meant for al fresco dining when the weather was good, but I don't remember it ever being used that way. In fact, I don't remember it ever being used at all. But that may be because I wasn't at this house when it was in use. Though I spent a lot of time here, I didn't live there!]

Through the butler's pantry -- which could be reached from both the dining room and the stair hall -- was a long, narrow kitchen,  galley style. The kitchen had been updated sometime in the late 30s, or possibly just after WWII. It's hard to say for sure, but it had the look of something newer than the house itself. There was a six burner, two oven electric range, an old fashioned but double door refrigerator, broad black and white tile counter tops, and built in cabinets for storage. The  butler's pantry held glass front upper cabinets for glassware and china storage, and there were felt lined drawers for the silver flatware. There was a "silver" sink in the butler's pantry, but I later learned it was "German silver" -- a form of nickel, not  actually silver at all.

The corridor kitchen led to a utility porch room at the side of the house. There were laundry tubs and a washing machine on the utility porch room (I don't remember a dryer but I'm almost certain there was one), there was a door to the basement stairs and a door to the maid's room. [Now that I think about it, the laundry may have been done in the basement rather than in the utility room. I remember my sister complaining about having to go up and down so many stairs to get the washing done. She had the kids' diapers sent out to the Tidy Didy Diaper Service, but she had to take care of the rest of the laundry, and she came to hate all the stairs involved. The basement was only under the "service" area of the house.]

The maid's room was small compared to other rooms in the house, but it was adequate to the needs of live-in help, if there was any. When my sister lived there, the room was used as her husband's hobby room. He was an avid ham radio operator and photographer, and he had most of his equipment in this room. He used the attached full bathroom as a dark room where he developed photos for himself and others.

Upstairs were the three main bedrooms. The master bedroom was in the back of the house, and was quite large (probably 14 X 20 or so. On the other hand, it was directly over the dining room, and the dining room wasn't quite that large, more like 16 X 16.) It had its own screened porch above the downstairs loggia and its own spacious bathroom. There was another bedroom over the entrance hall, and a third bedroom was over the kitchen and butler's pantry. A hall bathroom opened over [the utility room]? ...not sure now just where the hall bathroom was located. It probably wasn't over the utility room, however.

That was essentially it. I recall that the house measured about 2,400 square feet, hardly mansion size, but it felt larger partly because of the height of the living room and the stair hall.

The house was furnished luxuriously but comfortably. There were large Persian carpets in the living room and dining room. There was 3/4 size grand piano in the living room. Most of the other furniture in the living and dining rooms was substantial oak framed and leather covered Spanish style from the 1920s.

[More furnishings memories: The furniture was not consistently Spanish or the '20s version of "Spanish." I remember there were two loveseats in front of the bookcases in the living room. They were '20s "French," Louis XVish, covered in tapestry, with down filled seat cushions. There was a pair of chairs in the bay window in the living room. They were of indeterminate 18th century style, covered in reddish velvet. I don't recall a sofa in this room apart from those loveseats, but there were two lounge chairs, both covered in leather.   There was an oak desk in a corner with a drop-down slant front. A carved oak chair was in front of it. There were two or maybe three wrought iron floor lamps with silk shades. Upstairs, Grannyma's bedroom was furnished with a white-painted matching suite of generic '20s style. There were twin beds, a nightstand with a double branched light, a tall dresser, a low mirrored dresser, a dressing table with mirror and a bench in front of it, and a rocking chair. I remember the bathroom connected to Grannyma's room had a tub and shower, toilet, pedestal sink with porcelain faucet handles (all the faucet handles were porcelain in all the bathrooms). The floor was small white hexagon tiles with a blue border and the walls were tiled white with blue lines. There was a similar unpainted suite of furniture in the back bedroom, with the exception that there was only one bed and no dressing table. The front bedroom was my sister's and her husband's. Unlike the rest of the house, the furniture in this room was new-ish, Danish modern, walnut and sleek. Their bedroom had a king sized bed (I think it was, it seemed huge) twin nightstands, a dresser with mirrors (two, tall and thin) and a comfy chair covered in lime green in the corner. The lamps on the nightstands and dresser were large and modern. This bedroom had a door into the hall bath which was similar to but smaller than the bathroom off of Grannyma's room.  It may not have had a separate shower, but instead had one over the bathtub. I'm having a hard time visualizing it. The appearance of most of the rest of the interior has come back pretty much complete, but that bathroom and parts of the bedrooms escape full recollection.]

There were wrought iron light fixtures in many parts of the house -- wall sconces in the living room, wall sconces and a chandelier in the dining room, sconces in the entry hall, and a drop fixture in the stair hall.  There were bronze finished sconces in the bedrooms and upstairs hall ways. Porcelain fixtures were in the bathrooms. Wall switches throughout the house were the push button kind. The door hardware in the entry hall fascinated me. Interior door hardware consisted of a twisted wrought iron loop, not a knob. I'd never seen anything like it and have never seen anything like it since. Most other door hardware was bronze finished. [Another memory trigger: Draperies -- deep red velvet in the living room, crewel embroidered linen in the dining room -- were hung from twisted wrought iron rods or from concealed traverse rods (for the draperies over the french doors onto the loggia).]

This was not a show house, despite some luxurious trappings. It was a home to be lived in. And it was. It was also too much for my sister to care for, especially after she started having children. While she never had live in help, she hired a number of au pairs/housekeepers who came in several days a week to do the chores and look after the children. The longest-lasting was Helga, a sturdy German immigrant who took charge of household affairs and helped keep my sister sane. It's hard to imagine how my sister could have handled the place without Helga. She didn't consider Helga a servant at all; she was more of a friend and companion. But regardless of that, Helga was an employee who did the hard work while my sister was The Lady and she was still going to school to get her master's degree.

[I'm trying to remember where the children slept... My sister had three, a boy and two girls, the first in 1957, the second in 1959, and the third in 1961. So all of them were born while she was living in this house. I remember there was a crib in my sister's room for one of the girls. and I think the boy who was all of five or six when the house was sold slept in the back bedroom. Where the other girl slept, I'm not sure. Grannyma left the house around 1958 -- it was before my mother and I moved to Sacramento in 1959 at any rate. But her room was not used by the children. It wasn't used by much of anyone, for that matter. It was preserved as Grannyma had left it, and was in that original condition when the house was put up for sale. I slept in it a few times, and it was available for guests if needed, but most of the time it was closed off. I assume the boy and the older girl shared the back bedroom, but I can't recall for certain. ]

My sister's husband had grown up in this house, though it was his grandparents'. His parents had lived there too until they moved on. The last I heard, his father had become the manager of Nordstrom's in Seattle. My sister's husband had gone to boarding school until high school and afterwards he stayed at this house, partly because he considered it his home and partly because his widowed grandmother (we called her Grannyma) wanted him there. She lived in this house for the first few years of my sister's marriage and then she was moved somewhere... I don't remember where. I'd like to think it was to an old age home, but I'm really not sure. I recall she was quite frail and she could not really look after herself. She needed full-time care, and once my sister had children of her own, it was impossible for her to look after Grannyma the way she needed to be looked after, too. Grannyma may have moved in with her daughter who I believe was separated from her husband -- Grannyma's son and my sister's husband's father -- rather than go to  an old folks home, but I can't say for certain.

I recall that Grannyma had a 1950 or 51 Chrysler Imperial in the garage. She couldn't drive, of course, nor could her grandson, my sister's husband, because of his blindness, so the car became my sister's transportation to and from the university where she was getting her master's and for general use. When Grannyma left the house, though, the car went with her (which is why I think she may have moved in with her daughter-in-law [bolloxed the relationships!] who wanted/needed the car.) So... when Grannyma and the car left, my sister and her husband bought an almost identical same-age Chrysler Imperial. The only difference I recall between Grannyma's car and the one they bought was color. Grannyma's was a deep blue, and the one they bought was gray. [Memory trigger: Grannyma's Imperial was a 1950, and it was black. My memory of it being blue was due to the somewhat faded paint that made the black appear to be deep blue. My sister and her husband bought a gray 1951 Imperial but they would trade it for a 1959 Simca when they discovered how much it cost to maintain the Chrysler.]

After Grannyma died, however, this house was sold for what I thought was a pittance. I believe the man who bought it, a doctor, paid no more than $60,000 -- which was a lot of money at the time, to be sure, but the house, I thought, was worth at least $15,000 more. Even then I was interested in real estate, though I've never been involved in it professionally. [Another memory trigger. While I distinctly remember $60,000 and $15,000 in connection with the sale, I was thinking the other day that it might have sold for $45,000 but I thought it should have sold for $15,000 more, or $60,000. I think that might be correct because I have no memory of a $75,000 figure in connection with this house. $45,000 may have been a low-ball sales price because it "needed" so much renovation. Needed... no, it really didn't "need" so much work, but it would be transformed by its new owner just the same. See below...]

While I never lived in this house, I did spend a lot of time in it, including staying overnight quite a few times. I liked to think of it as "my other home" during my late childhood-early adolescence. I believe it was sold when I was 14 or 15.

My sister's first husband and his family were not wealthy in the sense that the rich are today. I doubt they were millionaires, the equivalent of billionaires today. "They were solidly well off" is the way I would put it then, and it's the way I would put it now. Upper middle class; bourgeois in the classic as opposed to the Marxist sense. Grannyma's husband had been the manager of one of Sacramento's best known department stores (Hales).  My sister's first husband's father managed another local department store (Rhodes) before moving to Seattle to manage Nordstrom's in the early-mid '60s. In those positions, both had plenty of money, and I know that Grannyma's husband left her well off from stocks and investments when he died.

As I remember it, and I will try to clarify, Grannyma's sole living descendant was TC, my sister's husband at the time. [Correct. Well, except for TC's kids, her great-grandchildren. They were Grannyma's descendants too, and if I recall correctly, each got a small trust inheritance from her estate.] Grannyma's daughter, TC's mother (what we called her, I forget right now, but I know it was a "cute" name [see below]), had died not long before Grannyma, but for reasons I didn't understand, Grannyma's estate was split 50/50 [Maybe 40/50 with ten percent going to the children. I can't say for certain...] with TC's father. That's why the property had to be sold. On the other hand, I believe TC inherited something from his mother, though whatever it was (probably stocks) was rather modest. Ultimately, TC was well-fixed himself, and my sister got a bit of that in the divorce settlement -- enough for her to buy her own house(s) and live relatively well even if she wasn't working. From time to time, she'd take leave from her jobs with the state and county to take care of her own health issues, and when she was not working, she had more income than disability and/or unemployment alone could provide. That income came in part from whatever she received as her share of the community property she'd had with TC.

This house and TC and his family were my first brush with anything like the wealth and privilege, though. My father had come from a prominent family in Iowa, and his father had been considered wealthy by others in the town, but when his father died, he left barely $1000 to each of his surviving children. My father purchased one of the houses from his father's estate, and that's where he lived the rest of his life. My father was "well-enough" off due to his income as an attorney, but he was not -- ever -- rich by any stretch of the imagination. He lived simply and died essentially in poverty, owning nothing but the house he lived in.

I was brought up by my mother. She worked in the medical field -- based on training she'd received in the Army during WWII -- and after the first few years (which were rough financially), she always had a decent if not extravagant income. She could buy her own home(s) and even a vacation/retirement place in the Sierras. She maintained all the trappings of a middle class life until she couldn't take care of herself anymore and she basically gave up those trappings to live simply, cared for by her granddaughter. When she died, she left nothing.

She had come from a solid working class background, though her mother had pretensions to something better (my mother's [grand] mother had been quite well off due to inheritance). My mother's father was a streetcar conductor -- among other things, including rake and burglar -- and her step father was a mechanic in Indiana who became the service manager of an auto dealership in California. Later he owned and ran an auto-court on the Redwood Highway which he sold to invest in a mine in Nevada. He lost all his money in that venture and went back to California to work as a machinist at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard during WW2 where he died. My mother inherited nothing, not even souvenirs of her own mother.

My sister's father came to California from Texas where his family were farmers in Navarro County -- Oil Country. In California, he worked as a mechanic at the same auto dealership where my mother's step father was service manager. Later, he would have all kinds of jobs up and down California. My mother saw him as a rolling stone, and she divorced him when she discovered he was carrying on with another woman. He eventually married that woman and settled down in the Bay Area becoming a vice president (sales) of Chevron Oil. It was quite a transformation. My sister probably got a modest inheritance when he died in 1989. I don't know. She might have got quite a large one. We never discussed it. By that time I was in only sporadic communication with her as she lived on the Central Coast, and I was developing our own theatre company.

Whether or not they had money, all of the people on my mother's side were working class, whereas TC's people were "above" that. They were managerial, which meant well-enough off to leave more than a little something to their surviving descendants.

There was another house at Lake Tahoe which was also sold as part of Grannyma's estate. I think it brought only $40,000, possibly less [it was probably closer to $25,000 - $30,000 and it was a shame. It was sold fully furnished, which meant it was full of charming turn of the century antiques -- which at the time were considered just 'old furniture.' However, the biggest loss, one I felt very keenly years later, was the collection of a couple of dozen incomparable Native American baskets that were part of the decor of the place. Some of them were very large, and all were exquisite. That collection today would probably be worth close to a million dollars if not more, but the monetary value was not the main thing. The extraordinary artistry and workmanship of those baskets was apparent to my eye even then, and I had a horrible feeling they were just thrown out.] Though The Cabin as it was called was on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe, had a boat house (and an inboard motor boat in the boat house, for that matter) and was actually an historic structure from the very early days of fancy people summering at the Lake, it wasn't "modern" enough for the times. I remember there was a calendar in the summer kitchen that dated to 1904, when apparently the place was built using logs from the property. I had thought that the Lake house was promptly torn down and replaced with condos, then just becoming fashionable, but I did a little sleuthing via Google Street View, and sure enough, there it was, looking almost as it did back in the day. Wow. What a surprise.

This is the Tahoe Cabin:

Street side of the Lake Tahoe "cabin." The lake side has a full-width porch with log posts. The view of the Lake is stunning.
The sale of these properties and various investments Grannyma had provided my sister's husband with enough money to buy new house in a fancy suburban neighborhood (Sierra Oaks). It was large, one story, and had all the modern conveniences including central air conditioning and a swimming pool, but it utterly lacked any sort of character whatsoever, and I thought it was very poorly designed and laid out. While my sister was not particularly fond of Grannyma's big old house in town, I think she was happier there than in their new house in Sierra Oaks. When After she divorced her first husband and remarried, though, the Sierra Oaks house was sold and produced a handsome profit. She was able to buy houses in the suburbs and then another one in the country with her share; her ex promptly bought a 1920s "Tudor" style brick house in town where he still lives. That place was not quite as large and stylish as Grannyma's, but it was otherwise very similar and it's not very far from it, either.

My sister's husband was legally blind, and for most of the time she was married to him, he didn't have a job [but see below for update]. Where he got enough money to live on, I don't know, but I think it must have come from Grannyma or perhaps from an inheritance from his grandfather. I know he owned quite a bit of stock on his own account, and he may have been living on income from dividends, but I don't think I ever probed the issue as it was none of my business. Toward the end of their marriage, he took a job with the County, not sure what he did. I don't think I ever knew. My sister finally got her master's degree in social work, and she, too, worked for the County. After they divorced, she worked for the State in State Hospitals as an occupational therapist. In the end, she wound up at Atascadero State Hospital -- essentially a prison for the criminally insane -- where she was injured in the middle of a prisoner take-down and died from a pulmonary embolism following surgery for her injuries.

Her first husband is still very much alive, though he is pushing 90. My sister was born in 1933 and would be 83 if she were still alive. TC, her first husband, was born in 1929 [or 1931 or 32] and is 87 [or??].

If I can keep up with this memory exercise, I'll try to draw a floor plan of the house at the top of the page (maybe the house at Tahoe too -- they called it The Cabin) and post it along with more notes about the house and my sister's time living there. I don't really think she liked that house much, but I did. I was fascinated with it from the time I first saw it, and I spent as much time there as I could, so much time that I was considered a resident by some folks in the neighborhood who thought my sister was my mother. I was really saddened when the house was sold, and I was disgusted with some of the renovations that were done to it. But that will have to wait for an update or maybe another post.

Updating: I remember I toured the house in Sacramento while it was undergoing renovation by the doctor who bought it from Grannyma's estate. He already owned a large house a few blocks away that he had rather notoriously "gussied up" with lots of gold and white 18th Century French style paneling and furniture and crystal chandeliers and whatnot. Very chi-chi. When he bought Grannyma's house, he started on the same sort of project. Uhhh... Though grand in many ways, Grannyma's house was designed to be rather rustic, with wrought iron hardware, natural oak paneling, hand adzed beams, tile floors, etc. He painted the interior an off-white. It had been a soft gold and natural wood since the house was built. It needed refurbishing to be sure, but white was too bright. He added an enormous crystal chandelier to the living room. It seemed completely out of place and the wrong scale for the room. He painted all the natural oak doors and woodwork off white. He replaced the unique wrought iron door hardware with antique brass. He replaced the wrought iron chandelier in the dining room with a too large crystal one. All the iron sconces were replaced with dazzling crystal ones, too. He painted the wrought iron stair railing gold.

As I recall, he opened up the kitchen, utility porch room and maid's room into a family room/kitchen retreat. It was nice in that it kept more of the rustic feel of the original house but otherwise it seemed to destroy the sense of place of the older configuration. This is one of the problems I've had with the "open concept" so fashionable today. I actually like... "rooms!"

Upstairs, he sort of went crazy with gold and white paneling in the master bedroom (and more crystal!) and marble in the baths. To me, the renovations were simply out of character with the design of the house. They were perhaps more appropriate to the house he owned a few blocks away. At least that one might have been based on the Petit Trianon at Versailles. This one was more Petit Hameau-ish.

When I saw what he was doing, I sighed and left and never had an urge to go back. It wasn't the house I had known any more. For years afterwards when I drove by, I'd just shake my head. I understand that when the doctor sold the house some time later, the new owners took out a lot of his "improvements" and reverted the house more or less to its original character. Though I haven't been in it since I went through it when it was being renovated by the doctor, the impression I get is that it is now more like it was when I knew the place, the crystal and white and gold is mostly gone, and even some of the oak woodwork has been returned to a natural finish. Yay.


Notes and Errata: I did some research and I'm surprised at how much I did remember, how much I got correct or nearly so.

Grannyma died in 1962 essentially as I recalled, and the house in Sacramento was sold in 1963. My sister and her husband and kids moved to the new house in Sierra Oaks in 1963 as well but it was before the sale of the house in town. As I recalled, they paid cash for the house in Sierra Oaks, so TC must have received some of his inheritance before the sale of the house in town. (Or he had enough money of his own to buy a large new house in a fancy neighborhood.)

I got the size of Grannyma's house wrong, however. It is listed at over 3,100 square feet, much larger than I remember, and as far as I can tell, it has not actually been expanded. A swimming pool and pool house were added by its current owners, but I don't think that would increase the square footage of the residence, as the pool house is not considered living quarters, any more than the garage would be. Interestingly (to me, anyway) the pool is where the "service yard" once was, where laundry was hung to dry and so forth. It's directly off what used to be the maid's room. That room, as I recalled, was eliminated, along with the maid's bathroom, when the kitchen and utility room were combined with them to make a large informal space, much as "open concept" renovations are done today. I was not in the house after the doctor's renovations were done, but I have a pretty strong mental image of what the space looked like after it was finished, so I may have seen a rendering or even a photograph.

This place would likely list for well over $1,000,000 these days. The house across the street, a larger and fancier brick house, sold in June for $2.25 million. Many of the houses in the neighborhood are valued at $1 million+.  This house has not been sold since 1990 when it was apparently purchased for $585,000 -- which is when I believe that many of the doctor's "improvements" were reverse engineered. The crystal and white and gold and such were mostly removed, and the wrought iron and natural wood were mostly brought back. Thinking about it more, I realized that the woodwork hadn't been painted. It was treated with a wash that lightened it but left the grain visible, and I hope at any rate that it was easy to remove.

Grannyma's first name was Mary, but I remembered it as Marie. I suspect she went by Marie, just because. Her daughter, TC's mother, was named Elizabeth, but she went by Mardella, and we called her "Punkin Eater." Don't ask why, because I don't know. She died a few months before Grannyma. I'm pretty sure she was separated from TC's father at the time -- I don't think they divorced -- and was living in the Bay Area where she had been looking after Grannyma until she couldn't do so any more, and Grannyma came back to live in a nursing home in Sacramento where she subsequently died.

I'd said that TC didn't have a job until fairly late in his marriage to my sister, but I remembered (and found evidence) that he did have a job at a radio-television shop in North Sacramento. I visited the shop several times -- easy enough, since I was living in N. Sacramento at the time. He was, as I mentioned, a ham radio enthusiast, and he loved helping other enthusiasts with their hobby. He even started me on the path to getting a ham radio license, but I didn't stick with it.

Later he worked for the county as a social worker at what was then the county hospital. How that came about, I don't recall. I have the feeling my sister probably got him the job while she was still pursuing her master's in social work, but I can't be sure. At any rate, I recall that he stayed with that job and married a co-worker after he and my sister divorced. They are still together, as far as I know, still living in the same house TC bought after the divorce. My sister's oldest child (now pushing 60!) lives with them.

I found several different birthdates for TC, so I'm not sure now just how old he is. The one I most frequently encountered was 1931, but that isn't the date I recall. 1929 is the date I remembered as his birth year. So I don't know. He was older than my sister, that much I knew.

I found a name while doing the research that I had forgotten. It was Melanie. She was the wife of TC's cousin, and she and her husband, TA, lived down the street from Grannyma's place. She would come to visit my sister frequently and they became friends. They stayed friends after their mutual divorces. I remember Melanie as a very nice young woman, rather a beauty, too.

I'd mentioned that this house, TC, his family and this neighborhood in Sacramento were my first brushes with wealth and privilege. Except for the first few years after my mother divorced my father and moved back to California, we were never poor, but we usually lived as if we were, mostly in solid working class neighborhoods, with few material possessions and as simply as we could. There were a few exceptions, but not many, and never did we have the kind of lifestyle my sister had when she was married to TC. It was another world altogether. One of the things I distinctly remember is how good-looking/beautiful so many of the people in that neighborhood were, and how very blond so many of them were. I'd never seen so many blond people in my life! I encountered many of the neighbors, visited with some of them, and I found there was quite a divergence in the way the neighbors behaved toward me and my sister. Some of them were warm and kind and generous and open; others, perhaps the majority, were distant, hostile, even it seemed to me, cruel in their treatment of what they thought of as outsiders -- which included me and my sister.

Later, as an adult, I would get to know a number of residents of this neighborhood, both long time and new-comer, through my work in the arts and performing arts. In fact, one of my high school teachers and her husband, a university professor of theatre arts, lived a couple of blocks away from Grannyma's house. I found that much the same dichotomy of behavior toward "outsiders" still existed in this neighborhood, and I wondered then as I wonder now if somehow the residents who were hostile toward outsiders felt threatened. In other words, people who felt secure were typically generous, open and welcoming. Those who felt otherwise were... not. Holding on to status was apparently a major life's struggle for some of these people, whereas others really faced no struggle at all. The difference was stark. Kindness, even basic human decency, could be and sometimes was, in short supply among some of these people, whereas others were refreshingly ... decent.

Of course I see the same dichotomy among the well-to-do in Santa Fe, too. Some are fonts of human kindness, whereas others you wouldn't want to encounter in life at all if you didn't have to.

And I think fear of losing status is what drives the hostility of some of these people toward outsiders.

TC, Grannyma, Melanie, and even Punkin Eater -- who we rarely saw -- struck me as genuinely nice people. Many others in the neighborhood were similar. Those who were not were, I believe, people struggling to hold on to status, and perhaps they were failing. These reminiscences put me in mind of the perils of wealth and privilege, perils that more of the well off face than many of us realize. It doesn't excuse their sometimes appalling behavior toward the "lesser people," but it does provide some of reason for it...

But I digress....

[Note: like my previous house post, this one has been added to, corrected, and updated pretty much daily since the initial posting. I would say "stay tuned," but I realize this post is more for myself than for my handful of dedicated readers!]

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