Monday, June 01, 2009

Why Yes, I Do Call Myself a Geographer

And suddenly I'm eight years old all over again.

I remember the name of the elementary school in Ann Arbor where I went to the first half of third grade. I used to walk there every day, it was just at the end of my street, whatever that was. But Google-Map the name of the elementary school, and look at the surrounding street names until one sounds sort of familiar, and drag the little street-view guy to about where you sort of maybe remember starting off from, 32 years ago, and... bam.

I didn't remember what the house looked like, but I do remember the railed-in patio above the family room, which is what that sunroom on the right is. My parents rented this house; the owner was a gourmet chef, and had a locally-produced cooking show that was filmed in the kitchen. It was a nice kitchen. Mom loved it.

I remember a little powder room directly off the kitchen, wallpapered in New Yorker covers. It had a laundry chute to the basement. So did all the upstairs bedrooms. My room was blue...

The house was furnished; I thought the grand old wooden hall tree in the entryway was a throne. It didn't suit my stepfather's taste, which runs to Hobbit Post-Modern. (Or perhaps Post-Apocalyptic.) Our regular coffee table was a slice of a knot from a redwood tree, wild and beautiful and (from the perspective of a small child in close quarters) perhaps needlessly jagged. The Coopers had antiques. I think this is about the cutest house I have ever seen. When we left it, my parents bought an A-frame on two acres of land in Ypsilanti, where all the furniture fit right in - though Mom always complained the exterior doors didn't fit quite right, and it used to give her nightmares.

The washer and dryer here were in the basement, where all the laundry chutes led. Oooh, but the basement was scary. It had a looming shadowy cistern, and was dark and dank and stone-walled, as required by Federal law. Wooden treads led down from the kitchen, just behind the powder room.

And I remember the detached garage, and that it had a clubhouse built up near the ceiling in the back of it, accessible by a ladder. (The family we were renting from had boys just a little older than me.) And I made best friends with a girl named Jenny who went to my school and lived a couple of blocks away, because we were exactly alike: we both lived in rented houses, both had clubhouses in the garage, and both of us had stepfathers who used to joke about selling us to gypsies. (Does anybody say that anymore?) Our parents were friends. Later, when we moved to Ypsilanti, and Jenny's family moved somewhere or other on the shores of Lake Huron, we'd still get together every couple of months. Jenny's mom had a baby girl - Whitney - and thus ruined our perfect symmetry, until my own mom got pregnant a couple of years later, and my sister Jessica was born. But by then we were in San Antonio, and I don't know where Jenny's family went.

One morning on our way to school together, I remember, we got distracted by a full-sized igloo in a neighbor's yard. (This was Ann Arbor, remember - you think school was called on account of a couple measly feet of snow?!) We were entranced, and stopped to play, just for a minute, and lost ourselves in fun. The igloo was just packed snow, but the architects had made windows by pressing and steaming up part with their breath until it turned to clear ice. I have no idea how long had passed before Jenny and I suddenly looked at each other and said "Oh shit!" (or the eight-year-old equivalent thereof). We had completely forgotten about school!

It really blows my mind how I could see something like that, on my computer screen at work - I only took an idle look, in a slow moment - and so much comes rushing back. All the changes and losses of the intervening years gone - Mom making chicken marengo or boeuf bourguignon in that kitchen - she was a great fan of Julia Child and used to watch her program religiously. Looking at that picture I can almost smell her cooking.

It's been a rough spring, this year. Funny to stumble across a simple image like that and feel it all blur away.

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