Saturday, December 15, 2018


I’ve got home on my mind. It could be because it is the “nostalgic season” or maybe I was inspired by a story-telling session where the subject was “There’s no place like home.”

I came home and listed all the houses where I had ever lived. There were 18 of them ranging from Essex County in the UK to Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boulder, Greeley and Fort Collins in Colorado.

The runaway winner for the most melodic address goes to 8605 Sundale Drive, Rosemary Hills, Silver Spring, Maryland. Ironic because the house was a sad little structure hastily built to accommodate the flood of workers coming to Washington DC during World War II.

Situated at the bottom of a hill, our basement quite regularly became the depository for a surge of muddy water. Remnants of those floods clung to our Christmas ornaments forever after. It was the house where I had regular panic attacks most every day, alone in the darkened living room before leaving for the first grade. It was also where my dad taught me to run cold water over my wrists in the hot humid months, to help me sleep at night.

“Helmsley,” in Brentwood, Essex, gets the prize for the most elegant house I ever lived in. The Brits like to name their houses. I was born in “Rye Cottage,” and soon moved to Helmsley before war-related forced evacuation from the UK took us to the U.S. We spent a summer in Groton. Connecticut before my dad took up his wartime job in DC and we settled in to Sundale Drive.

Near war’s end my mother, brother David and I moved to Ardsley-on-Hudson,  New York. My dad returned to London to resume his job. We joined him when the war was officially over, and in time to get a glimpse of princess Elizabeth and Margaret in the victory parade in London.

We took up residence in a charming little cottage in Coxty Green in the British countryside. My most vivid memory from there is of a herd of cows passing by each evening on their way to their home pasture. I can still hear my brother calling out, “The cows are marching.” Isn’t it weird, the things you remember from childhood?

From Coxty Green we moved into “The Chantry” on Priests Lane, which seemed it might be a permanent home. By this time I had been in school for a while and had mostly gotten over being the kid with the weird accent (American). But no. We were not to stay. My dad had itchy feet.

In late 1946 my little brother John arrived, welcomed even though unexpected, and more than 10 years my junior. When he was three months old, we shipped off to the US again, this time so that my dad could take up a position in the Foreign Department of the Seattle First National Bank. But he’d never been a banker. We paused in New York for four months where he learned about banking and where once again I became the kid with the weird accent (British) in Scarsdale, New York.

In their wisdom, because I was deficient in American history, they said, the school enrolled me in fourth grade. After a few weeks, they decided that maybe I really belonged in the fifth grade. Fourth graders were Brownies. Fifth graders were Girl Scouts. I was the only member of the Girl Scout troop with a Brownie uniform which made me an awkward standout.. I weathered that one without much angst. In the Scarsdale house I was lucky enough to have a four-poster bed.  Bubble gum was a new thing and not easy to come by. I saved mine every night—sometimes for as long as a month— a huge lump stuck onto one of those graceful posters.

Then on to Seattle, reached by a three-day trip on the Empire Builder, a train we came to love. My dad would sometimes take us down to the train yard in Seattle on a Sunday morning to see the Empire Builder get washed. Such simple pleasures!

In Seattle we took up residence at 1900 Taylor Avenue on Queen Anne Hill with an expansive view of Lake Union. I finished my elementary education at John Hay School and by the time I entered Queen Anne High School I felt totally at home. I loved everything about Seattle—the salt water—the fresh water—the mountains—even the liquid sunshine.

We bought a little cabin on Liberty Bay for $6,000 and it was on the rural roads surrounding the place that my dad taught me to drive. During the process, I drove us into a significant ditch where we were firmly stuck.  Chunky, barely 16 and wearing a two-piece swim suit that did my shape no favors, my dad ordered me out of the car to knock on a stranger’s door and ask to borrow a shovel.  Mortified, I did it anyway.

At Queen Anne High School I was elected to a student council office. My braces were gone and Conrad Jacobsen had taken it upon himself to kiss me. Life was good. Too good to last. My dad’s itchy feet intruded again. In November 1952 I flew with my family, kicking and screaming, to Philadelphia where my dad took up a job at Philadelphia National Bank. I entered Lower Merion High School, one unhappy camper who had never seen a pair of Bermuda shorts and thought everyone spoke with a very strange accent. I spent my free time that year writing letters to friends back home in Seattle. After all these years, I still keep up with some of them.

We rented a house at 1515 Surrey Lane in Ardmore, PA and within a year had bought 1424 Westwood Drive in the same neighborhood, the first house we had ever owned. It was from that house that I headed off to college in Ohio. “Not one dime will I give you to go west of the Mississippi River,” my dad told me when I wanted to apply to the University of Washington in Seattle. So, spurning his suggestion that I go the Bryn Mawr, an all-girls school close by, I chose to go west to Ohio Wesleyan. It was a choice I never regretted. That was my first step toward moving west that in some ways I have been pursuing ever since.

In the summer of 1958, with a degree in English in hand, I married an Ohio Wesleyan boy who I had convinced to go west—well—not as far as I wanted to go, but to Colorado. At least I was headed in the right direction.

 (For those of you who have waded through all this--bad news--there's more to come!)
Good news this week is that I'm sold out of my book, Still Running. It is available on Amazon and I'll have more in a few days.

No comments: