Friday, May 25, 2018


A few nights back Ms Ché and I attended a one woman play in Santa Fe written and performed by Delanna Studi called "And So We Walked, an artist's journey along the Trail of Tears." It's an allegorical play connecting a Cherokee actress's personal journey with that of her ancestors who were force marched from their homeplaces in what's now Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee in the 1830s to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

I suppose for those who know little or nothing about Cherokee history, it might have been revelatory. However, Ms Ché and I attended an intensive immersion course in Cherokee history years ago. It was led by (then) Principle Chief Chad Smith and Cherokee historian Julia Coates, and we've never forgotten it.

Readers may know that Ms Ché, though born and raised in California, is Cherokee, her mother a full-blood who moved to California from Oklahoma in 1941, and truthfully her mother never looked back. She and her sister left Oklahoma voluntarily -- perhaps even eagerly. They were not part of the forced urbanization of Indians then fashionable with in the US Government, but chose to set out on their own for their own reasons.

What happened to the Cherokee people in the 1830s -- along with the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles -- however, was something of a different order altogether, nothing less than ethnic cleansing on a massive scale, all so the Georgia crackers and their ilk could take the Indians' land and homes and farms and cattle without the fuss of Indian resistance. Just round up the savages, seize their property and send them westward, "Bye bye!" It worked, too, for there was little  or nothing the Indians could do once the President, Mr. Jackson, refused to honor the Supreme Court decision on the Indians' behalf.

He said, in justification for his refusal, that if he had enforced the ruling, it would have been worse for the Indians, for the crackers probably would have risen up and massacred them all. Given the spirit of the times, that's quite possibly true.

Our playwright/actress, Ms. Studi, was born and raised in Liberty, Oklahoma, but like so many before and since she was restless and she wanted something beyond the confines of the rather rigid -- and racist -- Oklahoma society in the "14 Counties" in Northeast Oklahoma designated the "Cherokee Nation."

Many people may not know that the Cherokee have no geographical reservation, nor do most of the other tribes in the former Indian Territory. The Osage are one of the only tribes in Oklahoma who have an autonomous reservation. Cherokees and most of the rest of the tribes in Oklahoma lost their communal/tribal lands and sovereignty over those lands during the period of allotment in the early 20th century. Allotment meant the extinction of tribal government and sovereignty over territory. For a time, the Cherokee Nation was functionally extinct as well, though some of its previous attributes and the institution of Chief were maintained.  The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma was officially reconstituted only in 1975. There are two other Cherokee tribal associations, sometimes referred to as "nations," the Eastern Band in North Carolina, and the Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma.

The Eastern Band is composed of descendants of Cherokees who "didn't walk" during the Indian removals of the 1830s. Many hid out in the hills or escaped from groups being forced West. Some were actually allowed to stay in their ancestral territory as Anglos moved in. Despite the removals, there are still quite a few Indians in much of the former Cherokee territory in the Southeast.

In the play, the actress who grew up in Oklahoma with her full blood Cherokee father and her German/Irish mother seeks to reclaim her Cherokee people's heritage and their roots in their former territory. She will take a journey with her father to North Carolina and return to Oklahoma along the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears, filming and interviewing Indians she meets along the way.

She falls in love with an Indian, "Steve," who jilts her.

She returns to Oklahoma with a terrible sense of loss on the one hand and a box of hope on the other.

And it takes forever.

The play is about 45 minutes longer than it needs to be. Two and a half hours is way too long for a one person show, sorry. I was getting very antsy as the play would not wrap up. I think I was not the only one. In fact, I know I was not the only one.

Structurally, "And So We Walked" is three separate plays woven together -- the story of the actress and her heritage project, the story of the actress and "Steve," and the stories of her ancient ancestors that formed part of her dreams and served to both spur her on her quest and made it as difficult for her as possible.

Each of these stories could be and probably should be a stand-alone forming a kind of trilogy.

But as it is, the piece is not just too long but it's confused/confusing as well. While there are definite attempts to clarify elements, and the performance was mostly fine, some of it never does make sense or the sense it makes appears to belong somewhere else.

As allegory it may work better than history. The basic story is that of the actress trying to find herself through learning about and being in the places where her ancestors once lived. But her journey is an allegory for the journey of the Cherokee people removed from their ancestral homes to Oklahoma under the guns of the US Army and the cracker militias of the day. The history of what happened and why is... dense... to say the least, and it is filled with what amount to legal arguments rather than human interest stories. The people involved, apart from the contending Rosses and Ridges, have never been given their due.

Like the actress, Ms. Ché did not grow up hearing of Cherokee removal on the Trail of Tears, even though it had happened to her mother's grandparents. They didn't talk about it. Over the years, of course, Ms. Ché and the actress had learned about it from books and movies, and in Ms Ché's case the Cherokee Nation history course, but the reality of it hardly resonated. The truth, yes, but not the reality.

The actress chose to re-trace Cherokee Removal from North Carolina, but Ms Ché has taken a somewhat different path. She's been to Nashville and its environs a number of times, for example, and has visited Andrew Jackson's plantation home "The Hermitage." The actress also made pilgrimage to The Hermitage -- and I wouldn't be surprised if she spit on Old Hickory's grave.

Ms Ché's reaction was quite different. She said she got a much better  -- and surprisingly more sympathetic -- picture of what Jackson was doing than the standard story of his perfidy toward the Indians. To her, it was much more complex than good v evil. Jackson faced a dilemma, partly of his own making, and his way out was to enable rather than resist the removal of the tribes to someplace he believed they would be safe.

It wasn't because he loved or hated the Indians so much. It had more to do with his frustration at white people's tendencies to get ornery, greedy, and wild.

Ultimately, most of the Indians were removed from the Southeast; and almost by a miracle they were able to re-establish themselves in their new homes in what's now Oklahoma where many of their descendants still are.

But many, many have gone elsewhere, Cherokees especially.

Ms. Ché says that she found a remarkable affinity to the land and landscape around Nashville -- not to the city itself -- and she sensed that that's probably where her mother's ancestors had lived before they were removed to Oklahoma. She never had a chance to ask her mother, though. And even if she did, her mother might not have known where her grandparents had lived before they moved (or were moved) to Indian Territory.

I think one misconception about Indians that white people ("Wypipo") have is that they "always" lived in a certain ancestral place, even the nomadic tribes of the Plains, and it was the whites who forced them somewhere else against their will. There is truth of course in this story, but the "always"-ness of whatever their ancestral home place is largely or partially fabricated. Indians moved around well before the advent of Wypipo on the North and South American continents. They weren't bound to a single home place forever and ever, amen. Tribes were distinct but not necessarily exclusive, and there was much interconnection and interaction between tribes.

The Cherokee are thought by scholars to have originated among the Iroquoian peoples of the Great Lakes and separated from them some three or four thousand years ago. Cherokee stories themselves suggest something more complicated. They suggest that Cherokee are a fusion tribe made up of travelers from the North (ie: the Iroquoian), but also from the Caribbean, and from South America. There may be other indigenous peoples who joined the Cherokee over time. They did not have a single home place, but chose a number of distinct -- and scattered -- locations around the Southeast, and they would move from them when they wanted or needed to.

Indians in general were not particularly stay-put peoples, and Cherokee were no exception. It is more a white-folk conceit that Indians "always" occupied a particular tribal territory that they were forcibly ejected from by whites. Not necessarily so at all.

In the case of the Indian Removal of the 1830s, yes, Cherokee were forced out of their homes, and many resented it. Some resisted. But in fact, Cherokees had been moving west since the 1810s at least, if not earlier, and they had established homes in Arkansas among other places long before the Removals. There were colonies of Cherokee in Texas in the 1820s, others were scattered in Northern Mexico, and so on. "Moving" was not necessarily a bad thing in Cherokee culture and life.

Whether the Cherokee had been living in the Southeastern area for "thousands of years" -- our actress said 12,000 -- is unknown. They may have been, but maybe not. There is some evidence of "proto-Cherokee" in the Appalachian region going back at least 3,000 years, but the evidence seems to be more ambiguous in the Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee triangle that is asserted to be the ancestral Cherokee territory. Maybe it is, maybe not.

That there are still Cherokee peoples there, however, is important, and those are the people our actress re-connected with on her journey.

As she says in the play, "My God, this place is full of Indians!" Indeed.

That's what Ms Ché noted about New Mexico on our first trip 35 years ago. Indians were everywhere.

And some of them are Cherokee.

Cherokee are everywhere.

The actress had to cut short her journey of discovery to do a play in New York. And so it goes. Cherokee are everywhere and they do whatever they can or choose to do. Some, yes, are in the Cherokees' ancestral places, but many are not.

One thing Ms. Ché has noted over the years is that Cherokee relationships are very complicated and among the full- and half-bloods, they're all pretty closely related.

Thus a half-blood like our actress is probably a cousin of some sort to Ms Ché, as she's found so many full and half-blood Cherokee ultimately are.

Ms Ché pretty much knows her roots. I'm still learning about mine. Our actress was on a journey to discover a deeper understanding of the people and places her ancestors came from in order for her to feel... connected?

It's a journey many of us take -- Indians included -- but many Americans don't care-- Indians included.

Should they?

I can't say. It's an individual matter I think. But what do I know? Not much!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Regarding the Massacres at the Gaza Fence

I can't say it any better than Andre Damon at WSWS:

The money quote:

After all, if Israel’s actions are justified, would not US forces deployed on the Mexican border be justified in opening fire on refugees walking toward US territory? Would the European border police not be justified in sinking boats of migrants fleeing to Europe?
The answer to both of these questions would obviously be yes. The universal defense of Israel’s actions makes clear that the imperialist powers have adopted the mass murder of unarmed civilians as a legitimate policy tool.

 No doubt about it...


Next month, Ms Ché will head north to Boulder to spend three weeks at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa. Oh my. When she told me she was going, I nearly burst, it was so exciting.

She's wanted to go for a couple of years but hadn't yet been invited and was a bit reluctant anyway as Boulder is not necessarily kind to Indians or elder women, both of which she happens to be. But her buddy Doug went last year and came back a Bodhisattva, so what can you say? He's an Indian too, but not an elder woman. Ms Ché arranged for Doug to live in a shack up on the side of a hill in Lower Cañoncito outside of Santa Fé after he was thrown out of the tent he was living in on the arroyo down the Turquoise Trail. So now he's staying in this hand-built Eagle's Nest on Dr. Z's property where he can watch the sky and the clouds and the soaring, wheeling turkey buzzards, eagles, hawks and ravens and hear the coyotes and think there might be bobcats jumping on his roof just because there might be. There is a round cave opening high on the hill behind his shack and it's probably the bobcat's den, or at least it might be. He has a full buffalo hide on a stand in his shack for ceremony and a deck on which to sit and contemplate the Universe when the spirit moves him.

A poetry reading up there at his shack might happen sometime in the next year or so, though Dr. Z is nervous about it. One thing, it's hard to get up there. Lame as I am, though, I made it, one step at a time, careful, careful, and it's even harder to get down again, as the slope is steep and you're not entirely sure where you should or shouldn't step at any given moment. Especially in the dark.

But that's as may be. It hasn't happened yet and maybe it won't. We'll have to wait and see.

I gave Ms Ché a copy of "The Dharma Bums" to take with her to Naropa. I tried to find my copy, all dog-eared and dusty, to give to her as a graduation present, but I couldn't find it, so I got her a new one. That and the Truman Capote Reader. She's always admired TC since a version of him appeared as Dill in Harper Lee's "Bird Book" (as he called it.) On the other hand, Kerouac has scared her more than anything. Kerouac the pacifist who might have been part Indian himself.

I'm linking to a piece I wrote about "The Dharma Bums" after re-reading it four years ago. Time may fly, but... oh my.

The Dharma, "The Dharma Bums," Prefiguring the Rucksack Revolution, and How We Got Here -- Or Something

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ms. Ché Graduates From the Indian Art School in Santa Fé

Since long before we moved to New Mexico, Ms. Ché has been deeply involved in the literary scene. She was a member of a number of writers' groups in California, and for about ten years, she'd been coming to New Mexico for writers' conferences.

She's been a writer herself for as long as I've known her. We met 53 years ago this month in high school. She was a graduating senior, I was a junior who would do my senior year at a new high school built specifically to educate the white students separate from those of color. I've mentioned from time to time how segregated neighborhoods were in Sacramento in the early '60s, and this was an example of how officials sought to maintain segregation even though it was illegal by the time the new high school opened.

At any rate, the high school she graduated from -- where we met -- published a literary anthology the year she graduated (1965) that included a number of her haiku and one longer poem from me along with a wide variety of fiction, non-fiction and "think pieces." We were encouraged to write and at the time I had a habit of doing so in a journal.

Ms. Ché on the other hand had greater ambitions. As we got to know each other, we corresponded back and forth frequently as she entered college and I completed my senior year of high school. As I recall, she was bored in college. She hated taking so many classes that seemed like such a waste of time, but it's what you had to do, so she did. She saw herself eventually as a serious writer, writing stories, novels, poetry, essays, what have you. The only thing she didn't like about writing was journalism (which I found out later, she's very good at. Go figure.)

After we got together and became a couple some time later (two years or so later) she decided to try learning to write on a more professional basis through a correspondence course which taught her a lot, she said, but she really did not like and ultimately rejected the commercial aspects of the literary business. Her correspondent instructors (who seemed to be very good and were published writers themselves) wanted her to write for the Market, and they tried to help her shape her submitted works for the Market, saying she had such potential, they just needed to be tweaked this way or that. She said no, that wasn't the way she wanted to go with her work.

Over the years, she wrote a lot of... stuff: poetry, a long novel, many, many short stories, plays and so on, each in her unique style which she privately circulated among friends or had published in local anthologies, and occasionally had fiction or poems in magazines.

To say she's lived an adventurous life is putting it mildly. A lot of that is what she wrote about, and that is what her readers wanted more of. But she always wrote to satisfy herself.

In California, she felt stymied despite the fact that she was involved in many literary activities and forums and was being published from time to time. She was pretty well known among a circle of writers and there was a growing audience for her work. Her plays, especially, were very well received. But she didn't feel 1) she wrote as well as she wanted and needed to; 2) that she was really getting anywhere. Also she found the literary atmosphere to be stultifying. She wasn't getting anywhere because a writer couldn't where there was so much negativity and pure bullshit everywhere you turned.

She branched out by coming to New Mexico to the Hillerman Writer's Conference and then to its Word Harvest successor after we had purchased a house here. At these conferences, she was mixing and mingling with some of the West's prominent writers of mysteries and genre works, and she was also able to practice her craft among them. Every time she came back from one of these conferences she was exhilarated. Then she became depressed again as she saw how crabbed the whole literary scene around her in California was. It was night and day.

So when we moved here, she was itchy to start on a serious "grown up" writing path. She workshopped with good writers she respected and she stayed in touch with many of the writers she had met over the years at those conferences. It didn't take long before she became convinced she could "do this" -- write, seriously, in her own voice -- and she was given so much encouragement by so many other writers who wanted to see her succeed just as I did.

We'd been giving money for scholarships to the "Indian Art School" -- IAIA -- for a while, and she'd gotten to know some of the faculty, particularly Jon Davis, the head of the MFA creative writing program, and at the time, the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe. One thing led to another.

Long story short, she decided to enroll in the "Indian Art School" as a student. Initially, her idea was to go directly for the MFA, but she became convinced that it would be better for her to obtain a BFA first for the grounding it would give her, and so, for the last two and a half years, she's been studying and writing very hard with some instructors she respects and indeed loves, among a lot of other Native and non-Native students. And yesterday she graduated with her BFA in creative writing, accepted for the MFA program starting in July.

She's been pretty widely published during her time as a student, both short stories and poetry, but she wants to focus her MFA studies on poetry. "Why?" ask some. "There's no money in it." Well. So?

She laughs, and she will be going to the Naropa University for three weeks in June to study at the "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." So there. She's really looking forward to it.

And as an Elder -- she's 70 -- she's been inspiring all kinds of women of age to follow their bliss and do... don't fret at lost opportunities, just do, including returning to someplace like IAIA or work with artists/writers you feel can help your native (or Native) talents to blossom.

Yesterday's graduation was quite an event. Her cousin came from Nevada and other friends from California and Texas sent cards or came through to wish her well. The day before, there was a swell party at friend's house in Santa Fe.

And at the graduation, Ms. Ché was honored as the Valedictorian for the Class of 2018. She wrote and delivered one of the most compelling and touching speeches of its kind I have ever heard.

She wore her mother's dress which she altered with tucks and ribbons to resemble traditional Cherokee garb, but which she had made very definitely her own. She wore a tiny Zuni-made quail pin on her mortar board because part of her name in Cherokee means "quail." She wore a carved shell necklace made by a Cherokee artist in Oklahoma because that's where her mother was from. She wore another shell necklace made by a California Native artist from abalone shell because she was born and raised in California. She wore moccasins hand made at San Ildefonso Pueblo north of Santa Fe because she now lives in New Mexico and studies among Pueblo peoples, and she wore a Pueblo sash in honor of those Pueblo students and faculty she's come to admire.

Her speech was mostly about her mother and the sacrifices she had made and the gifts she had given her children during her life time. (Readers of this blog may recall that Ms Ché's mother passed away in her sleep at our home in 2009). She wove a story of her mother and the life she had passed on to her daughter that seemed to touch everyone attending. Her speech was near the very end of the ceremonies, and people were tired, babies were fussing, and there might have been a few thoughts of "oh no, not another speechifier..." And then as she told her story, a hush fell over the crowd, the babies stopped fussing, and some in the audience were simply mesmerized. Awed I think is not too strong a word. More than a few wiped away tears running down their cheeks (including my own self.)

And as she came to her conclusion they started cheering and applauding enthusiastically, and as she stepped down, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, also a Cherokee, stood at the mic, took a beat, and simply said, "Wow."

Yep. That's right.


Oh, yes, and Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Houses Again

This is the sort of-somewhat Mid Century Modern house in suburban Sacramento that I grew up in. Well, "grew up..." Maybe it's a "coming of age" story. Maybe not.

My mother bought the house in 1962 when I was 13 and I moved out in 1968 when I was 19. I moved back in 1973 (with Ms Ché) when my mother went to work in Stockton, and moved out again in 1975 when Ms Ché and I moved to San Francisco.

The house looked a lot like this when my mother bought it (for something like $17,500).

It looks like this now:

In between time, I painted the exterior avocado green. I planted the Japanese maple trees in the front yard. Most of the shrubbery, though, was there when we moved in. The people who bought the house from my mother in 1985 painted it white and it's been white ever since. They also made some slight landscaping adjustments and replaced the garage and entry doors. Other than that, it's pretty much the same as when I lived there. As far as I know, the address board I made in 9th grade shop class is still over the garage door.

The house had three bedrooms and two baths, built in electric range and oven in the kitchen, hardwood floors in the main rooms, a used brick fireplace in the living room as well as a wall of floor to ceiling windows with a sliding glass door to the backyard, but not much else. It was plain to the point of Spartan. There is just over 1250 square feet of living area.

The house was built in 1957 with a vaguely "Japanese" exterior, but there were dozens of other houses with the same floor plan in the neighborhood, and there were three exterior designs to choose from: contemporary, Japanese, or farmhouse. The interiors were all the same; the exteriors were actually more similar than not.

Every once in a while, one of these houses goes up for sale, generally listing between $270,000 and $300,000, and so far, none of the ones I've seen listed has undergone a gut renovation. In fact, most have had only normal repairs and replacement updates. Floors and appliances have been replaced in the kitchens, maybe a built in dishwasher has been added and the original sink replaced. Sometimes the kitchen cabinets and countertops have been replaced along with the appliances, but just as often, the original cabinetry remains. Bathrooms have had vanities installed and perhaps bigger mirrors and better lighting, Central air conditioning has probably been installed. The original aluminum windows have likely been changed out for vinyl. Roofs have been replaced. Decor has changed a bit from the 1950s. But otherwise the houses with this floor plan that I've seen listed were very similar to the one I grew up in.

This kitchen, for example, is almost exactly the same as the one in our house -- but for the newer appliances and the lighter stain or wash on the cabinets.

Even the countertop appears to be the same as in our house or very similar to it. Ours was this pattern Formica (Skylark):

And about that countertop, though installed in 1957, it featured something that's become ubiquitous on the home remodeling shows: a breakfast bar.

Though it doesn't show very well in this picture, the "breakfast bar" was about a 12" extension of the counter with an 8" overhang.

Though there are no barstools in the picture, we had two rattan and wrought iron ones (very popular back in the day) and from time to time we would sit at the counter having... ta da... breakfast. Note, there are no pendant lights over the counter-bar. There wouldn't have been in those days!

The cabinets were oak veneered plywood and had a sort of butternut finish. In this house, it looks like the finish was stripped and a pale yellow wash or bleach was applied. They're not painted. But they are the same cabinets. The hardware is hammered copper and is original. The tile pattern flooring appears to be vinyl and would have replaced stone pattern linoleum -- yes, real linoleum which was still widely available and very popular back then.

The problem we found with this linoleum was that the finish wore off rather quickly. We replaced the linoleum with vinyl asbestos tiles within a few years of moving in. Also a note for those who have pets and would like to have real linoleum floors today: think about it long and hard. Pet urine will destroy the linoleum surface in a twinkling. It cannot be restored. Word to the wise. Pet urine on hardwood floors can be even more destructive though repairs are possible.

The light fixtures don't have the original "space-the-final-frontier" globes, and just like us, the householder has replaced them with plain white spheres. I noted that some houses listed for sale had the original light globes, which I'm sure delighted Mid-Century fans and probably disgusted HGTV fans. The whole kitchen would throw them into a tizzy of horror and disgust. Sixty year old Formica?! Ewww! Must have granite! Marble! Quartz! What is that sink? Must have farmhouse apron sink! And that built in range and oven must date from the '70s! (Can you imagine what they'd think of the original appliances from the 1950s??) Who could stand to use them? They must be gross if they work at all. And electric???! Horrors! Rip it out and put in a Wolf or one of the other high end "dream" free-standing gas range. Those cabinets are soooooo dated. Rip them out too. Subway tile and open shelves are much better above the counter, and those lower cabinets are soooo ugly! How could any body live that way! Need recessed lighting, crown molding, and PENDANTS!!! over the breakfast bar! Stat!

Then the HGTV fan realizes the kitchen is really tiny, barely 10'x10' and there's no room for an island. How can you cook in it! Rip it out to the studs and incorporate the adjacent space (originally called a "family room" but it's only 10'x10' too) to make something at least potentially...something!

Here's a view of the kitchen and "family room" from another angle:

Yes, those false beams were in our house too. There's a built in dishwasher in the picture which would have been added later -  whenever the rest of the appliances would have been replaced. Our range and oven went out in the '70s.  We had a portable dishwasher. The picture makes the kitchen and "family room" look much larger than they are. No, I recall they were very cramped especially when we had parties.

Rip it all out right away! You have to! Can't live like this! [Per HGTV, This Old House, etc.]

The problem is there's no place to expand these rooms without taking space from others. Beyond the double window in the "family room" is a side yard that's barely 6' wide if that. Out the door on the right is the garage. Some homeowners expanded the "family room" into the garage space by six feet or so, but that's about as far as you could go without making the garage too small to accommodate autos. 

There's a laundry area in the garage on the kitchen side of the door in the picture. It was interesting. The electric water heater was on family room side of the door. On the kitchen side, there was just enough space for a washer and dryer, but nothing else. There was no vent for the dryer if you had one (but there was a 240v plug to plug one in on the assumption you'd get one.) The dryer location was on the door side of the space rather than the exterior wall, so a vent had to be installed by the washer, and a vent hose had to be run behind the washer. Once that was done, the dryer vented into an alcove by the front door. Not exactly best practice, I would think.

On the other side of the house was the living room. The picture of this living room is remarkably similar to our own:

The wall by the fireplace wasn't paneled in our house and the far wall in the dining area featured various wall papers over the years. It also had a high capacity room air conditioner punched through the wall high up. 

Sacramento is notorious for hot summers ("But it's a dry heat!" Feh.). Temperatures above 110° are not unusual. Some people got by in those days with swamp coolers, but when the temps were above about 104° they didn't do much of anything; likewise when humidity was above about 25% they ceased to have much effect on temps.  So for about half the summer, the swamp cooler would simply blow hot, wet air around... 

We got a room air conditioner (from Sears, I believe) for our previous (rental) house -- which we left there -- and got a much larger one for this house. A handyman installed it together with the appropriate 220v electric connection. 

Well, it cooled the living room, "family room" and kitchen reasonably well, but it could not cool the bedrooms. Eventually we got another window air conditioner for the master bedroom, but the other two bedrooms had to make do with fans. I remember being unable to sleep some summer nights because of the heat. Often, however, by early morning a sea breeze would come in from the Bay Area and cool outside temperatures down to tolerable levels. Of course  that could cause problems for the air conditioners. They would ice up if outside temps fell too low and would cease working. It could be a constant struggle to balance outside heat and inside cooling. Over time, most locals shifted to central air conditioning -- which was very expensive to install and operate in those days and I imagine still is -- but we never did. In fact, though I've lived in many different houses in lots of warm climates, I've never lived in one with central air conditioning. Hm. How about that? [It can get warm in the summertime where we are now in New Mexico, sometimes over 100°, but we make do with a couple of portable air conditioners and one window unit.]

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Side Tracking -- Houses Again

While cruising real estate listings in a neighborhood where I lived in Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley (1954-59) I came across this:

I remember this listed house quite well. I don't recall the people who lived there, but I do recall the house. It's on the corner of the street where I lived and its floor plan is identical to our house down at the other end of the street. This house has been heavily rehabbed for sale but with the usual update exceptions, it's much as I remember our house back in the day.

It's quite a small house, though it is photographed with a Real Estate Marketing Fisheye Lens® to make it appear enormous. 

I was five or six when we moved in to our house down the street --and to my eye then, the house did seem rather large (I think it was June, 1954, so I would have been five.) The house was brand spanking new, still stinking of paint and varnish, gobs of dried stucco on the bare, dusty ground, no fencing except on the property line along the drainage ditch in back, Yes it was new but very, very stark and plain.

The house in the picture is the first house on the block, and our house was the last house on the block. A blacktop driveway had just been laid at our house. There were no sewers, no gutters, no sidewalks, no curbing. The street was paved, more or less, and there was electricity and running water, so there was that, but otherwise... not much.

I can't say I liked living there for the first year or so because the house we had come from was such a cozy and homelike place, built pre-war, surrounded with lush greenery, I really didn't want to leave it for... this one. This one that echoed with your footsteps. This one in a rough and raw neighborhood on what seemed like the edge of nowhere. Wild hillscapes abutted the development. Coyotes would howl the night away. Orange groves were still in operation behind our place.

But I got used to it. We lived there five years, longer than any other place up to that point in my young life, and I got used to it.

In some ways, the renovation of the listing house is so spanking fresh and raw, despite the interior glitz and brand new nursery plants and rolled out lawn in front, it feels a lot like our place did not long after we moved in. Actually, we set to work very quickly putting in landscaping. There were lawns front and back, shrubbery and roses galore within a few months, even a "water feature" in back where we kept frogs and turtles. 

The exterior or our house was painted white with hunter green trim. The driveway was blacktop not concrete. There were no lawns or trees on the property or anywhere nearby when we moved in. The garage door was solid, it had no windows. There was an open field to the right -- houses wouldn't be built there for another several years (I believe 1957).

In the living room looking toward the front door: the door had no window, so the hall was kind of dark. The walls were a neutral beige. The floors were oak hardwood. To the left of the front door (right as you enter) there was a doorway to the "den" or third bedroom. It's been closed off in this remodel, but the way the light hits the wall, you can almost make out where it was. There was no recessed lighting. We had an old Philco console radio. No TeeVee until sometime after we moved in, and then the TeeVee went in the den.

Our furniture was Early American, maple and homespun, with brass lamps on the tables and a braided rug on the floor. As I look at this picture I can hear the echo in the room and throughout the house due the bare travertine tile floors. But our house with wood, tile and linoleum flooring echoed too, as we had few rugs or curtains and the rugs we had were small.

Two other views of the living room with the dining area beyond. I think the overused term, "flooded with light might be appropriate. When we moved in, it sure seemed  like it. 

The bank of windows in the lower picture faces north, so it shouldn't have been too bright, but it was. We had curtains, but they didn't go up immediately, and they proved too small when they did get hung, so my mother either made or bought unbleached muslin tiered cafe curtains which she hung on brass rods with brass clips. (I know she bought a Brother sewing machine but she couldn't figure out how to work it, so I'm not sure now if she made the curtains. I know that was her idea, but she may not have followed through.)

The curtains cut some of the glare. The high window in the dining room faces west, and you can imagine what the afternoon sun was like. The one salvation was that it was so smoggy most of the time, you hardly ever saw the unfiltered sun.

The picture window in the living room had a wonderful view out over the orange groves to the San Gabriel Mountains about eight or ten miles north. Of course the view depended on how thick the smog was. Smog often obscured the mountains completely. Nowadays, they say it's not nearly so bad, even in the San Gabriel Valley where smog was once the worst in the Los Angeles Basin.

The kitchen and bathroom are the most heavily remodeled in this reno-flip. They're almost unrecognizable to me compared to their original appearance and what they looked like in our house. 

The layout of the kitchen is similar to what I recall, and yet not. There was a sink and tile countertop and cabinets on the right and a door to the side yard in our house, and on the left there was a stove and refrigerator, a closet with a water heater, and to the left of that I believe there was a broom closet. There were, as I recall, no cabinets or countertops on the left side of the room. Just beyond where you see housing for a refrigerator in the picture is a door to the front hall way, and beyond that is a tiny breakfast area across from which, in our house -- and no doubt in this one before the reno -- there was just enough space and the hook ups for an automatic washer, not a wringer washer that needed a tub (though I suppose the kitchen sink would have done in a pinch) and not enough room for or hookups for a dryer.

We had a Kenmore washer like this one:

As I recall, the counter top and back splash was medium green tile with a dark green edging. The cabinets were off white as were the walls. The flooring was a grey mottled linoleum with scattered red and green designs -- not florals, more like deco patterns. The refrigerator was to the left of the stove and the water heater closet was to the left of the refrigerator. 

We had a compact Wedgewood gas stove and cycled through one refrigerator after another. For some reason, my mother thought a new refrigerator was "too expensive," so she bought used ones for $50 or so, mostly pre-war models, and when they conked out, as they inevitably did after 6 months or a year, she'd buy another one. We had a Frigidaire (c. 1939), a couple of Crosleys (c. 1939, 1940), a GE (date unknown), and a Servel gas refrigerator (c. 1941) which necessitated installing a gas line from the stove but which survived and operated until 1957 when my mother broke down and bought a new Coldspot refrigerator from Sears. I think we kept that until 1963 or 64, schlepping it from house to house. After we got a new frost-free fridge, the old Coldspot lived in the garage as spare. As far as I know, it kept functioning well into the '70s and was probably still there when my mother moved out of that house in the mid-'80s.

I remember all this stuff which is kinda weird but there you go.

I'm curious about what they did with the water heater and the laundry area in the flip-house because they aren't where they were, and moving them is not exactly a "cosmetic" matter. I suspect that the linen closet in the bedroom hallway was pressed into service for laundry equipment (it's behind the shuttered doors in the picture below):

This would explain some of the changes to the bathroom, too.

This picture makes it almost unrecognizable to me. 

The bathroom I remember had a stall shower, a separate bathtub, and a cabinet with a single bowl sink. The door at the end of the room in the picture goes I don't know where -- maybe that's where the water heater is? If so, it would need venting. At any rate, that's where the tub used to be and the shower was where the tub is. The cabinet and counter on the left replaces the one that had been there. As I recall, it had a pink tiled countertop edged with blood red tiles and the tile around the tub and shower were also pink as was the tile floor. Pretty!!(/s). It was actually pretty fancy for the time. While the rest of the house may have been plain and spartan the bathroom was luxe. Comparatively. 

The bedrooms are plain, and except for closet doors, are pretty much the way they were:

The front bedroom which we used as a den/teevee room. There was a door to the front hallway that's been closed off on the right, and a closet which isn't shown in the picture. On the left, next to the desk is the door to the bedroom hall.

Here are pictures of the other two bedrooms. The first two pictures are of the back bedroom. The last is of the other front bedroom, across the hall from the bedroom above.

Except for the fact that the floors in our house were oak, they look and feel a lot like the bedrooms in our house, what with very few furnishings, beige walls, and bright light through the windows. 

My bedroom would have been like the one pictured directly above. It wasn't very big, maybe 11x11 or so-- though it looks much larger in the picture -- and as I recall, my room was furnished with only a single bed. There was nothing else, not a chair, desk, dresser, nightstand or bedside lamp. The bed was against the wall rather than against the windows, and my memory is that for a long time there were no curtains on the windows, though there were roller shades. The windows faced the open fields and hills to the east, so the early morning sun would sometimes wake me up. The mitigation was that the smog was often thick enough to cut the glare, and the hills to the east were close enough and high enough to block the actual dawn. The sun didn't come in the windows till half an hour or so after dawn.

When construction started on the houses east of us, I was a little sad and miffed. The way our house was situated, it felt like we were in the country -- at least from the bedroom side. And for a year or so after we moved in, the view from the living room windows to the north was of orange groves and the mountains not far in the distance. This rural feel was actually new to me -- I'd always lived with close neighbors in fairly tightly packed communities until then. But once I got used to living in a semi-rural area (though it didn't stay that way) I liked it.

The orange groves were ripped out and the trees were burned in 1955 or 56 and an elementary school was built on part of the bare land. I started third grade there when it opened. What we called "cracker box" houses were built on the remaining land. Those houses are now very desirable Mid Century Modern examples, some of them very well preserved, others not so much.

Though built mid-century, our house was not actually Mid-Century style, and I think that's one reason why the overhauled example that's listed for sale now has had the kind of thorough-going "contemporary" renovation it has. There was no charm, no style to our house at all. None to the essentially identical house listed either. In fact, none of the houses in this section of the development had anything like "style." They were quick-built cookie cutter houses intended to fill a void and a need for post War housing as fast and efficiently as possible. 

It took me a long time, but eventually I realized that the floor plan was actually that of a standard bungalow that could be traced back to the turn of the century. The standard bungalow floor plan had been built in California and all over the country by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, between about 1910 and 1930, and the basic floor plan continued to be used right up to the outbreak of WWII when house construction largely stopped for the duration. 

When the post war construction boom got under way, the same basic floor plan was still employed, but our house and ones like it had a twist. The floor plan had been "reversed" -- that is the front of the house had been turned to the rear of the lot, and what faced the street was actually the back of the house -- if it had been built as a standard bungalow. The front door would have been the back door, the front porch would have been the rear screen porch where there would likely have been laundry tubs and the ice box or refrigerator, and the door in the center of the living room wall that goes out to the back yard would have been the front door, and there probably would have been a front porch too, though many of the houses built in the '30s didn't have front porches, just an entry stoop.

My mother grew up in a California bungalow, so I can understand why this house might have appealed to her instinctively, though she might not have been conscious of the evocation. To me, it was just another move to yet another house. We'd already lived in three different houses in Santa Maria, and this house would be the third house we lived in in the San Gabriel Valley. This by the time I was five. It was actually the seventh house I'd lived in as I was born in Iowa and had lived in my father's house for the brief time I was there.

Moving that often is disruptive to be sure, but to me it was normal, and until I got much older, moving was exciting. Then I came to dread moving. 

We lived in our last house in Sacramento for more than 20 years, and getting ready to move to New Mexico in 2012 was a months-long process. It was a... pain. The move itself was liberating, but not the preps. 

Moving as often as I did as a child, though, seemed easy. I'm sure it wasn't, but back then, it was just part of life.

So many things seemed "just part of life" in  those days, and one day before I pass on I might tell some of those stories. In the meantime, I just wanted to note the house where I lived from 1954 to '59 and the current listing for the house just like it down the street.

ADDING: Here's a video of the house from Zillow