Tag Archives: Charbridge

Before I Move

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It seems I’m having difficulty moving from one address to the next. Once I pull up all the memories of a place, from wherever they’ve lay hidden, it’s hard to move on. I want to linger there, with the young person I was and with all of her unreasonable dreams.

We got our first stereo system when we lived at Charbridge. Before Terry and I got married, I spent way too much money on a nice radio. It had all kinds of special features – or seemed to at the time – all enclosed in elegant dark wood. My mother had always had a radio, for news in the morning and music through her day. A radio seemed necessary.

In college, in a discussion with other students, something was said that caused me to say I didn’t have a stereo. The looks of surprise and pity  elicited by that comment caused me to realize it was a music system that was necessary. We went shopping that very weekend, and put one on lay-away. It had a turn table, an eight-track tape player and a recording feature with two little microphones. Somewhere, still waiting to be converted to compact disc, I have old eight tracks of my little daughters playing Donny and Marie. Jen sings, “I’m a little bit country…” to which little Katey responds, in baby talk, “…an’ I a idda bit wock an’ wo-o-ooh!”

Mrs. Baldry took care of my daughters when I was attending classes. She had a daughter, too: Lara – named for the character in Doctor Zhivago – was just a bit older than my Jen.One year she knit sweaters for each of my girls. Jen’s was red, white and blue ombre’ yarn; Kate’s was in shades of pink.

Jen went to Schickler School for kindergarten. She brought home more songs for our repertoire: “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”  and the Schickler song (“S-C, that’s the way I begin, H-I are the second letters in…C-K, those are the third…L-E-R is the end of the word…”). In classrooms set up at the dining room table, in the basement playroom or on the living room floor, she tried to teach Kate everything she learned.

My sister Brenda and her family moved back to Lapeer during the time that I lived there. She often visited me at Charbridge. We’d play games while we visited. One time, her tire went flat on the way to my house. It would be difficult to stop, on the highway, to deal with something like that. Her husband was at work, so she couldn’t call him, even if she could get to a phone. I was expecting her. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. She continued to my house. There, we could see that it was, in fact, a serious flat tire, and pretty mangled by the time she parked in front of my house. Obviously, she couldn’t drive it back home. Without a second thought, we got out the backgammon board to entertain ourselves until our husbands could deal with the problem. Turns out, that wasn’t the best course of action…according to the guys, anyway.

I got my own car, when we lived at Charbridge, so that I could drive to and from my college classes in Flint. It was an old Volkswagon Beetle. Most of the floors were rusted away; the gas gauge didn’t work; the windshield wipers were missing; there was no heat. It was a standard transmission…and I didn’t know how to drive a standard transmission. The price was right; we decided it was perfect. Terry spent a few evenings trying to teach me the particulars of driving a stick shift, then gave up in frustration. “Just drive it,” he yelled, “you figure it out!”

So, that’s what I did! Lurching and stalling, swearing profusely, shivering to beat the band, I drove it to and from Flint to my classes all winter long. I’d dress in layers: with no heat, and all the gaps and holes in the car, driving on the highway was like standing in 70mph winds. I’d pull off on Oglethorpe Drive to pick up my friend, Linda. She’d come running out with afghans, scarves and her son’s ski masks. And a big grin.We’d be off again, jerking through the gears, pulling off to chip ice from the windshield as needed, hoping not to run out of gas.

The future seemed huge, in those days, and anything at all seemed possible.

 

More of Charbridge

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Jennifer, summer, 1975

“Pivotal,” I said, regarding the not quite four years I lived at Charbridge Arbor.

Many things contributed to the impact those years had on my life. Few were directly related to this address.

My daughter, Katey, was born in December of 1974, less than two months after we moved in. Having a child is life-changing. One would think that having a second child was more of the same…but, no. A second child changes everything: the worry; the work; the family dynamic; the love. It’s much more than double…it’s more like one hundred-fold. So, that was the first big change in my life during the years I lived at Charbridge.

I started college. I was not one of those people that thrived in high school. I was smart and capable, but hated almost everything about school. I couldn’t wait to graduate, to be done with that forever…but, I found, forever is a very long time. Once I was married and had children, I had fulfilled every goal I was brought up to reach for. What next? First, my friend Linda and I took a couple evening enrichment classes at the high school. My sister Brenda enrolled in classes at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and suggested that I do the same. I was terrified; I would have never done it without her encouragement. I may not have anyway, but…

Because my daughters were born via caesarean section, and  Kate was born with pneumonia and other complications that required a ten-day hospital stay, and we had no health insurance, we had racked up a very large hospital bill. Once hospitals cure you…or deliver your baby…they have little recompense to get you to pay the bill. For this reason, it is my theory that they hire the vilest, cruelest, most demeaning bullies they can find, to try to collect. One day, after a particularly harrowing conversation with one of those gentlemen, our telephone service was turned off for lack of payment. Inconvenient…but a relief, nonetheless. A couple hours later, the electricity was disconnected for the same reason.

Now, with a six-month old baby and a three-year-old, I was getting concerned. Where was my husband, anyway? It was hours past the time he should have been home. I had no car, no telephone and no lights. I fed the baby and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for Jen. My husband came home after dark. He had quit his job, he explained, then went to the bar to get up his courage to come home and tell me about it.

Looking back, I can think of several different conclusions this scenario could have brought me to. Many of them even make sense! At the time, I thought, “Obviously I cannot count on him to support our family, so I’d better plan to do it myself.” To that end, I did not intend to go out immediately and get a job. No, that would have been far too practical. Instead, I enrolled for classes at the community college with my sights set (I was just so unbearably naive!) on an Arts degree!

Finally, Charbridge Arbor changed the view I had of myself. It’s a testament to how very young and insecure I was, that a nice home could bring up my self esteem…but it did. It changed me from the inside out. I tried out different things. I permed my hair; I pulled it back into a bandana (“She looks like she could tell fortunes,” was Grandma B’s assessment of that look!). I bought Puma running shoes and tried to take up jogging. I piled my daughters into the stroller and walked all over the town. We went visiting: we’d stop in to see Terry’s Uncle Chet and Aunt Ada, or we visited my sister Nita on Court Street (she lived in the same apartment I had started out in!). When Jen started kindergarten, Kate and I would walk with her to the door, then we’d often get in the car and go to see my Mom and Dad. We went to the park so regularly, Jen thought it was hers. I enrolled my daughters in swimming classes, and then took them myself, too. I taught myself to cook Chinese food. I baked fancy sweet breads for holidays. I started collecting baskets, and books. Many of these patterns have stayed with me, and help define the person I’ve become.

When we left Charbridge Arbor, it was for the adventure of moving to Beaver Island.

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Katey, Easter morning, 1978

No Address

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I enjoy writing about the places I’ve lived. Every location is a challenge and a pleasure. Some memories are evasive: the shape of a room, the location of a door, the color of the walls. Others, though, seem so firmly attached to a place, they spring to mind as soon as I start describing a floor plan, and the feelings of comfort, fear, resentment or joy are as fresh as this day, though the walls that caused the remembrance are decades in the past.

I still have a long list of places I’ve called home, before I finally arrived at this place. A daunting number. I wonder how I found the energy to move, again and again: packing and unpacking; changing addresses with the post office and the state; finding schools and stores; getting to know the neighbors. How did I muster the enthusiasm to arrange my belongings time after time in a different space? I don’t know. I don’t have that kind of stamina today!

Today, I’m overwhelmed by the chore of just writing about the next place! I started out with good intentions. Up by seven o’clock, I had the title typed before I poured my first cup of coffee. As I have a long list of writing and editing to get done today, on my day off, I wanted to get this one thing done early, so I wouldn’t have the distraction of it pulling me away from other tasks.

The search for a photo slowed me down. I have two albums, one small hinged cedar box, and two metal tool boxes all filled with photographs. They are all in a stack on the floor beside my desk, and have been since I started this endeavor of writing about addresses. They used to be in order, divided by index cards or placed in envelopes, just waiting for the time when I’d finally arrange them all in albums. Over the years, I’ve gone through them – always under pressure of some deadline or another – to find photos for a baby book, cook book or funeral board, or to illustrate a point or prove a memory. My children have gone through them, and so have my grandchildren.

One album is mostly photos I took when I was sixteen and seventeen, with my Kodak Instamatic camera. All of the others are a jumble. There is my youngest daughter when she was two years old, right next to a cluster of snapshots of my oldest daughter’s first apartment, on top of a few pictures of a trip I took to northern California, a Christmas at Mom and Dad’s when all of our kids were so small, my newborn granddaughter, Jen dressed for the prom, Kate with her first born son when he was just a toddler, and on and on. I kind of sort them as I go, but then everything has to go back in the box. When it comes time to find a specific photo, or a photo of a certain location, I have to go through everything.

Now, having gone though a pot of coffee while wading through memories, I have a pathetically small stack of photographs taken at Charbridge Arbor, my next address. It is 10:45. I have a mound of work I haven’t even begun. Charbridge will have to wait. No address today.