The Second (Downstairs) Court Street Apartment

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My husband, Terry, with Fritz, Dec. 1971

I don’t know how it happened that I still have a photograph of my husband, Terry. I no longer have the husband! In fact, I had two to choose from, both taken while he was sitting in this same chair (a beautiful, oak Craftsman style rocker with leather seat and back that his mother found at a sale and meticulously refinished for him), in the downstairs Court Street apartment. They were taken on two different days. I set aside the second one because his socks were dirty, there was visible debris on the floor and the dog wasn’t in the picture.

I used to have several photos from this apartment. Fritz was a very cute dog, and I took lots of snapshots. All gone now. There was one photo of me, in a floor length purple bathrobe that accentuated the fact that I was very pregnant, that was taken from one end of the apartment while I was standing at the other. It gave a much better idea of the architecture and layout. It has disappeared. There were photos of my new baby, Jennifer, as this is where we lived when she was born, and until she was about five months old. They have migrated, over the years, into the albums or collections of others. So this is it, one photo that shows very little of the downstairs apartment where it was taken.

This apartment was not the apartment directly below us when we lived in the upstairs apartment. It was the ground floor of the other duplex apartment, when the building had been a duplex. Now, divided into four apartments, the upstairs units each resembled bedrooms off a hallway; the downstairs units looked like the public living spaces. Our address was 205A Court Street. The apartment was on the corner of Court and Horton Streets, so – unlike any of the other units in the same building – we had a back door that led to our own driveway off Horton Street.

Wooden steps with a rickety rail led from the driveway up to the back door. Entering that way (which we always did, for reasons that will soon be clear), the kitchen presented itself. It was a big room, with cabinets and appliances lining the side walls. There was room for my little table and chairs in the center of the room. Straight ahead, in line with the back door, was a doorway leading to our living room. My husband kept a chin-up bar, a sturdy tension rod, in that doorway for exercise.

When this building was new, the center room would have been a formal dining room. Large windows lined the wall on the right. On the left, a door at the rear revealed a deep closet  in the space under the stairs. Another door, toward the front, was now sealed. That would have led to the upstairs bedrooms.

An eight-foot-wide archway led from that room into what had once been the living room, and that we used as the bedroom. A door on the left led to the large porch that all of the apartments shared. In the front corner, a small bathroom had been installed. A huge picture window looked out onto Court Street. A transom window above it featured a large, etched floral design.

Once we moved in, the only ones that came to the front door were strangers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or people who had never visited before. Everyone else knew to go to the back.

We painted the living room a sunny yellow and hung gold curtains to offer some privacy for the bedroom. We set up crib and bassinet for the baby we were expecting, and tried our best to fill the large rooms with our meager furnishings. We celebrated our first Christmas there. We first brought our baby girl home there. I started reading through recipes and having kitchen successes there, including the best blueberry pie ever, and some memorable pots of soup.

My friend Linda and her husband, Darrell, visited us often. Now that we were both married, and both either expecting a baby or a new mother, we had more in common than we’d had in years. We had meals together and played a lot of games. Darrell was a sore loser, so the challenge was often to find a game he could win at. One day, we were visiting while waiting for my husband to come home from work. Terry walked in the back door, put down his lunch bucket, grabbed onto the chin-up bar and (the show off!) swung himself up so that his body was in a straight line, parallel to, but about six feet off the floor. Suddenly, the woodwork gave away, the tension bar let go and my husband dropped six feet onto the floor. Of course, we burst out laughing. Of course, he writhed in pain and cursed us all, which only drove us to more fits of uncontrollable laughter. Fortunately, he wasn’t hurt, because we laughed first, and asked that question later.

Terry’s uncle moved with us, from the upstairs to the downstairs apartment, but I was cranky about it, and he soon moved on. My father-in-law, Jack,  would often stop in the mornings for coffee, to visit with me while I bathed and dressed the baby. My sister Sheila stopped in one day with her friend Debbie. They were thinking they could hang out and skip school at my house. I gave them a lecture, my husband dropped them off at school, and that was the end of my little sister thinking I was going to be her accomplice. I was a grown-up, after all, with my own apartment, a husband, a baby and a dog…all at not quite twenty years old.

Before my baby was six months old, we moved from this apartment into our first house.

Who Knows Me?

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I have a piece of foil that I’ve been re-using for about three years. It wasn’t new to start with. It was a scrap that had been used to wrap something or cover a dish. It was torn, too small for most jobs, but too good to throw away. Not that I would have just thrown it away; here on Beaver Island, we recycle just about everything. Aluminum foil is one of those items that has its own bin at the Transfer Station. In my mind, this piece of foil wasn’t ready for the recycle bin, either. I use it to cover the can of dog food each day. I have one of those snap-on plastic lids designed for covering a can of dog food. I may dig it out and put it to use, too, when I have to. For now, this piece of foil is doing a fine job.

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I have another piece of foil that I save in a plastic bag in the freezer. I take it out, unfold it, and use it when I make chocolate no-bake cookies or  chocolate butterscotch haystacks. When the cookies have set, and can be moved to a plate or packed into bags for sharing, I re-fold the foil and save it until I need it again.

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Another plastic bag keeps butter wrappers at the ready, in case I should ever need to butter a pan before putting batter or bread dough in it.

At my sink, I have an ancient “scrubby” that is almost – but not quite – ready for retirement, having lost almost all its grit and scrubbing power over the last several years of use.

I have about fifty corks, saved from wine bottles over the years. There are things to make by re-purposing them, when I have enough. I drink wine, but not daily. At this point I wonder if there’s time in my life  to collect enough corks to make a decorative wall treatment or a backdrop for a dartboard. Still, I can’t bring myself to throw them away. Maybe I should just make a trivet and be done with it.

My studio is filled bit bits and pieces that – someday – might be exactly what I need. Some are sorted by material: metal, wood, paper; others by shape. One large tote of paper scraps has devolved into such a dense mound of paper, finding a particular piece would be almost impossible. Still, when I try to sort, it all seems precious.

My sister and I got together last week, for a little visit. I had to attend a seminar in Clare; I went down a day early, and Brenda drove up to meet me. As usual, she brought presents.

First, a cordless phone, so that I can once again walk through the house while having a conversation. I’m no longer tethered to the cold corner of the office by the telephone cord! Second, a computer, to replace the one that crashed at Thanksgiving-time, just out of pure generosity and kindness on the part of Brenda and her husband, Keith. A bag of hand-me-down clothes, every one thoughtfully chosen based on my size and preferences. That led to a fun hour of trying everything on! There was another bag of bath salts, crossword puzzles, and books because Brenda never forgets that I love them all.

Finally, a bag of letters. Laminated ABCs, with the capital on one side, the small letter on the other. Hundreds of them! “Keith bought a small chest…these were inside…if you don’t want them, we’ll just throw them away…” Are you kidding?! Throw them away!?! I LOVE them!

It’s nice to know that no matter how quirky and odd my habits may seem, Brenda knows and understands me!

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Forty!

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Today is the fortieth day in my year-long writing commitment. Forty days in a row that I have posted a blog. Forty days without missing a day. In my life, this is big! Major! Maybe even unprecedented!

So, that’s what I’m going to focus on today.

The success.

Not the forty things I have let slide in order to keep up with this challenge.

Not the forty things I am behind on.

Not the “Creative Fire thirty-day journal challenge” that I dumped after less than one week.

Not the forty (more like four hundred!) other attempts to form good, productive habits over the years that have been abandoned. Like walking every day. Drawing every day. Starting every day with yoga. Meditating daily. Making the bed every day. I could go on and on. You get the idea.

And definitely not the three hundred and twenty-seven days yet to go, before this commitment is finished. Let’s not think about that.

Today, I have written a blog for every day of the year, so far. I have managed to find subject matter that has inspired me and – I hope – entertained those who stopped in to read. I have only rarely devolved into navel-gazing journal entries. I have averaged about four hundred words a day. For me, that’s a huge accomplishment.

For today, that’s what I’m going to celebrate.

The 52 Lists Project #6

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Week 6: List the ways you love to have fun:

I love to

  • Read
  • Write
  • Work puzzles
  • Play word games
  • Play trivia
  • Plan
  • Arrange things
  • Rearrange things
  • Paint
  • Draw
  • Take pictures
  • Garden
  • Walk

Most activities are solitary, true.

My mother once said, “Of anyone, Cindy could live on Beaver Island just fine. She always was the most anti-social of all my children.”

My sisters and brothers once jokingly decided I was the most likely to be able to survive in prison, for many reasons including my enjoyment of being alone, my ability to entertain myself with just a book or a deck of cards, and my appreciation for cafeteria food.

I do reach out, though, through my art and my writing. Sometimes, though rarely, I even enjoy hanging out, having conversations and laughing.

…And What Happened There

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The writing exercise I am working through clearly suggests listing in detail all the places I’ve lived, “one place per page.” The suggestion is to write about the physical space: the rooms and walls, the sights, sounds and smells. Memories attach themselves to places, though. As long as I’m here – at 207 North Court Street, Apartment B – I may as well recount what I can of my time there. Who knows when I’ll get back there again.

We struggled with our budget. Twenty dollars a week was our weekly grocery allowance. My first trip to the grocery store used more than a month’s allowance. It was costly to set up a kitchen with the staples for cooking and baking. Cleaning products came out of the grocery budget, too. So did paper and pens, personal care items, sometimes yarn, and a newspaper or magazine. Beyond the grocery store, it seemed like something was always coming up.

I walked to town almost every day. I wandered through J.C.Penney, and McCrory’s Dime Store. Sometimes I walked down to Church’s Lumber, to look for inspiration. They had building supplies, but also doorknobs and dowels and unfinished furniture. I stopped at Kruth’s Bakery on my way home, to get one cream puff and one raspberry Bismarck. My husband and I shared them, when he came home from work.

I took great pride in being able to plan meals, shop for ingredients and execute the recipes right in my own kitchen. Actually, “execute” is a good, descriptive word! Though I had the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, a gift from my mother, and many years of experience helping to prepare meals in the home I grew up in, I managed to massacre quite a few early attempts at cooking.

My husband thought it was cute, and collected stories of my kitchen missteps. For our entire marriage, he reminded me whenever he got the chance of how my first attempt at chicken and dumplings resulted in “one giant dumpling!”

One problem was that I wanted to get creative. My mother was a good, but predictable, cook. How dull! I wanted new challenges; I wanted to try things that I had never done before! That goal became an issue mainly because of the second problem: I never read a recipe through. I read the ingredients, gathered them, combined them in a bowl, dumped them in a pan and baked, fried or roasted for as long as seemed necessary.

That’s how we had made cookies and cakes growing up. There was no mixing of butter, sugar and eggs, no sifting dry ingredients together before combining them with the beaten liquids. We only read the ingredients list, never the instructions. Instructions were for babies! And that’s why my early creative attempts in the kitchen were so often disasters.

Probably the instructions that came with the baked chicken recipe suggested dipping the chicken pieces in buttermilk, then rolling in seasoned flour, dipping in an egg mixture and then rolling in crushed corn flakes before baking. Having never read the instructions, I mixed buttermilk, eggs, flour, seasonings and cornflakes in a bowl and dumped it over the chicken pieces in my new CorningWare pan. What I ended up with was almost raw chicken pieces encased in a very well-done pancake-like concoction that stuck like cement to my new pan.

I’m sure the Ham Wellington that looked so impressive in the Pillsbury ad had preparation instructions that included actually baking the large ham before encasing it in crescent roll dough. That meal – prepared for company – resulted in cold, raw ham under a beautiful crust. I believe we went out for pizza that night.

We had visitors to our little home. Once, the police came, to ask about a domestic disturbance downstairs. I repeatedly, primly explained that I just “tuned out” the voices that were so easily heard through old walls and heat vents, that I didn’t pay any attention. The officer kept a slight smile on his face, and nodded as he took notes, as I gave him a complete rundown of events, despite having “tuned it all out.” Mike and Cindy were the friends frightened by the large, cold ham. On the day my sister Brenda and her husband Keith came to visit, the bed was unmade and the sink was full of dirty dishes. My in-laws, Pat and Jack, came to see us, with my sister-in-law, Dena, and their dog, Scottie. My husband’s Uncle Don dropped in unexpectedly one night, and ended up sleeping on our couch for several weeks. He even moved with us, when we moved!

One day, out of sheer boredom, I cut about eighteen inches from my hair.

I bought a small, unfinished desk from Church’s Lumber, and finished it (poorly) with wood stain as a gift for my husband.

We got a puppy! Fritz was a small, black terrier mix who I loved immediately.

In the few short months that we lived in our first apartment, we learned that marriage was not all fun and games: cooking wasn’t easy; budgeting was hard; house-breaking a puppy was nearly impossible, especially with a set of steps to navigate. We also realized that the upstairs apartment was going to be hot as an oven in the summertime. When a downstairs apartment in the same building opened up, we grabbed it!

 

 

The First (Upstairs) Court Street Apartment

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Well, when I was eighteen years and four and a half months old, I got married.

There was talk, young and poor as we were, that we would move in with my in-laws. I didn’t like that idea (though my in-laws were wonderful people!) and neither did my sister, Brenda. When everyone else was telling me there was no way we could find a place to rent with our meager income, Brenda was helping me scour the newspaper classified ads, to look for affordable rentals. She was helping me plan a reasonable budget. She made me excited about having my own place, and setting up my own household.

My soon-to-be husband made about ninety dollars a week working on the line at a small factory. I worked two days a week as a Nurse Aide at the hospital; it paid minimum wage. About a month before the wedding, we put a security deposit down, and paid first month’s rent for an odd little upstairs apartment on Court Street in Lapeer, Michigan. The rent was $105.00 a month, heat included.

The address, if memory serves, was 207B N. Court Street. It was two blocks away from the beautiful old Lapeer County Court House where sit-ins and other protests occasionally took place. It was across the street from Anrook Park, and walking distance to all of downtown. The building had been a large, Victorian duplex. It had a big front porch, heavy doors and etched glass in the transom windows. It had clearly been an impressive building, at one time. Not so much, in 1971, when we rented it.

At some point, the building had been divided into four apartments, with the bare minimum in adjustments. Our apartment had once been the upstairs bedrooms for one of the duplexes. That’s how it was laid out. When you crossed the porch and went through the entry door, you found yourself in a small foyer. To the right was a door that led into the downstairs apartment. Straight ahead was our door. There was barely enough space for it to swing open, and beyond it, immediately, were stairs going up.

At the top of the stairs, there was a long hall. Straight ahead, what had originally been a bedroom was now plumbed, wired and divided into an alcove that held the only sink, a kitchen and a bathroom. down the hall and off to the right was a large room with a walk in closet. Though it was clearly meant to be a bedroom, because of its close vicinity to the entry, we deemed it the living room. At the very end of the hall was the largest room; we used that as the bedroom.

The building had clearly settled over the years. The room that we called the living room had a two-foot drop from one side of the room to the other. The hallway tilted to the north and the west. The bathtub sat at a rakish angle that was most evident when filled. The walls were rough plaster covered with a variety of wallpapers. Floors were linoleum with old fashioned patterns. We thought it was all quite wonderful!

The kitchen was my favorite room. It had one of the few brand new furnishings: a small dining room set, purchased from the trailer factory outlet. Oval in shape, metal legs supported a dark brown wood-look top, and four gold vinyl chairs. The wallpaper in that room was a floral red, yellow and blue pattern on a cream ground. I hung my “Uncle Sam wants YOU” poster on the wall. I brought in the wedding gifts of daisy patterned melamine dishes, Teflon pans and CorningWare.  I had the cutest set of glasses: clear with red and white stripes around the bottom and blue stars around the top. My  father-in-law had picked them up at a country auction, and gave them to me when he saw that they went along with my color scheme.

I don’t have a single photograph of this apartment. I can picture it clearly in my mind, though, as if it was only yesterday that I tilted down that crooked hall!

 

Timeout for Art: Learning to See

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When drawing is a daily activity, the eye and the hand work together. There is no thought process to interfere with the operation. No brain arguing about relative size or depth or the effects of foreshortening. As the eye takes in the subject, the hand moves to put it down on paper. Later, when this activity between seeing and drawing becomes second nature, there is room for cognitive advice: an organic line there would give volume to that shape; let the line fade to nothing there, or make it a dark, strong line where the subject has weight.

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When drawing is not a regular habit, first lines are tentative, soft and slow. It takes time to learn – or to relearn – how to see and interpret. It takes time to  trust what is there.

As drawing practice becomes normal, all aspects come easier. The hand gets better at following the vision. Compositions fall into place more readily. Shadows help to establish objects in space without overwhelming.

It all comes in time.

When drawing practice is new, there is a softness and timidity in the finished works. Lines are a little bit tenuous, borders are sometimes over-drawn. Baby steps. They aren’t what could be called “strong” drawings, but they have their own good character. I like them for that.

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