I ran across something that fascinated me the other day: a short history of the congregation that my family affiliated with during the time when we lived in the Houston area. The worship services are held in a different building now--a building that is completely unfamiliar to me. I attended services there for a few months in 1998 with my family after moving away from the university I was attending three hours away; but I really never became acquainted with the building, and it isn't what I think of when I think of "the church" in Pasadena. The name has even changed; and I still think of the church with its old name. Despite the fact that there is a stained-glass window in the new building in honor of my grandparents, I can only associate my grandparents with the old building and the old church name.
A few years ago, the American Council of the Blind held its convention in Houston. I had grand ideas about dragging my friends around to places that were meaningful to me as a child. Why not? My mom does this whenever we travel to areas of the country where she lived in the past. It usually isn't a very accessible activity to me: we sit in the car and drive slowly past some landmark while she talks about her memories. So I wonder if my friends would feel the same way tromping through my childhood memories. They can't really experience what I experienced. The houses are locked up, and the furniture is gone; the people are gone; school is out of session; the old church is sold, and no music would play there if it even still stands; the old neighborhood might be crime-filled instead of peaceful and full of laughter and yappy dogs. But how fun it would have been to find a way to transport over to my childhood neighborhood and take a walk through it... Maybe we'd even see one of the old neighbors--sometimes they stay there for 40 or 50 years even though we think they're going to move away. I could tell about the neighbor who lived across the side street who called me Toad. His wife was my babysitter, and she used to feed me Smarties--I called them "candy pills" for years--and pretzels for a snack. Every time Scott saw me playing outside--or later coming in from some college thing with my dog--he'd holler, "Hey, Toad!" I think it was because he knew I was deathly afraid of the slimy things! And how funny it would be if they still lived there and he did it! (And he would, too.) We could walk on down a couple of houses from there, and I could stop off at the house where I got my childhood kitty, Copy. We could cross back over to the side of the house behind mine, and I could tell about staying at Mrs. Pinkham's house after school during fourth and fifth grades. I didn't stay every day--I was free to stay or go home after checking in with her. Copy got in her big garbage can one day and she made me dig her out. She had a Schnauzer named Barney...
After I brought my first dog guide home in 1991, I used to walk past these houses on my way to the little convenience store a couple of blocks away. I walked down Mrs. Pinkham's street, turned left at the next block, went past a couple of little residential streets, crossed the major road, and turned right and went down to the end of the block where the store was. I wonder if it's still there...
Scott and Jean's house was sort of a reference point in the neighborhood for me for a lot of reasons. It was the first place I learned to go to: go out my front door, down the front sidewalk, turn right on the sidewalk that goes along the street, go to the end at the side street, listen for cars, cross when it's quiet, and I'm in their driveway. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were built just like theirs: living room on the right and dining room on the left as you walked in, a small hall with a kitchen on the left and a bar overlooking the dining room, two bedrooms on the right and a bathroom on the left behind the kitchen, and the master bedroom in the back. The rest seemed to be built like Mrs. Pinkham's: master bedroom on the right as you walked in the front door, living room straight ahead, small dining room off to the far back left with a bar overlooking the kitchen back toward the front of the house, and two bedrooms at the front of the house with a bathroom in between and a little hallway leading to all the entrances off the living room. I'm not sure if that makes much sense when I describe it. Our house was the oddball: entry hall with huge living room straight ahead, small dining room and kitchen off to the right of the entry hall and entered through the living room, two bedrooms along the front of the house accessed by a hallway leading off from the living room to the left of the entry hall, large bathroom at the side of the house accessed by a turn in the hall, and master bedroom beyond the bathroom with the entrance facing one of the bedrooms. The master bedroom had a vanity area with entrances leading to a bathroom and a walk-in closet; and the wall to this entire area bounded the living room. I always wanted a house like this of my own someday.
Just a bunch of little tidbits that I remember...
I never got to explore that neighborhood very much alone when I was a child--my parents were afraid I would become lost. Dad and I rode tandem all over it; and later a friend rode with me quite a bit. The side street that Scott and Jean lived on formed a cul-de-sac with two of the other residential streets--I guess that means it formed two cul-de-sacs: one at the corner near Mrs. Pinkham's house and one three blocks away. Despite my lack of freedom, I knew the layout of the neighborhood by heart. I still think I do. In reality, things may have changed very much. I know this, but it's difficult to conceptualize change sometimes without seeing it for myself. Sometimes I have difficulty conceptualizing it even after seeing it. If I didn't enact it, then what used to be must still be somewhere.
My little tour wouldn't have been so easy as getting to my childhood neighborhood. I was educated in a school outside my own neighborhood. Busing was normal for children with disabilities in the 1970s and 1980s; and though my school was not geographically far away, it was not close enough that I could walk or make friends easily with neighborhood children. Most of my familiarity with Pasadena was gained after I moved away. I began using Mapquest's driving directions feature to create mental maps of the town and provide myself a frame of refrence for my memories. It doesn't really matter now--my friends don't live there anymore. But it's nice to understand that a house is a real location in the wide world and not just an abstract tplace where I arrive suddenly in a car after taking a series of undefined twists and turns--and perhaps not always the same series of twists and turns.
Some significant places for me are far from home. I spent many weekends at the Lighthouse of Houston, located some 20 miles from home. I don't know how normal it would be for a person to consider something 20 miles from home to be one of the central points in her childhood life. But I do. The Lighthouse is another facility that has undergone significant changes since I was active in programs there. The buildings are different, and the programs are vastly different. The library no longer exists. I was able to take away some books when the library was closing; and I've so far managed to keep myself from giving them away. They are all I have left of the memories--and there are a few that I wish I had been able to get.
My big dreams in Houston never came true. Personal sight-seeing tours are not very easy to organize, especially when the availability of people with cars is limited. I was disappointed. I may never have another opportunity to do something like that--my friends aren't going to flock to Houston just because I want to drag them on a personal sight-seeing tour. I don't even know that they would enjoy it. But it still makes me sad.
My mom likes to share her memories. So do I. Most of my memories are on audiotapes. If my family's reactions are any indication, most people don't really enjoy sitting and listening to anything. There was once a time when radio was fascinating--and in that day maybe tapes would have been fun, too. But things must have video now. Who will ever listen to my tapes? There are so many funny moments captured there! At least they are funny to me. There are so many meaningful conversations that I have stored away. Am I the only one who will treasure them?