Recollections of Bigelow Street

I had the fortune of spending the majority of my childhood in one home. My parents relocated from their crowded Hollywood apartment between Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards in the early 1970’s. They chose Simi Valley for its reasonable proximity (my father was still employed in Hollywood) and affordable housing (the value of my childhood home in today’s market is simply astronomical.)

2362 North Bigelow Street was a serene California ranch-style home, replete with a paved drive, attached garage and slightly sloping lawn. My most vivid recollection of the home’s front yard is the red geranium bushes that my mother planted (she removed them shortly before the house sold.)

We did not have a separate pathway up to the front door. One simply walked up the drive. A white Ford Pinto (bought to minimize the massive expense of gasoline during the 70’s fuel woes) was always parked closest to the door. My mother’s parking slot was to the left of that and once contained a passive purple Pontiac Grand Prix, later replaced by a sky blue Buick Regal. The garage held no vehicles whatsoever. My father constructed walls to create a utility and laundry area for my mother, and the rest of the cavernous space was occupied by his collection of theatrical lighting, sound boards, tools, theatre makeup, old costumes, scrims, old magazines, props and set pieces, boxes of scripts and general junk.

The interior of the home was my mother’s to decorate and she honed her design skills to a fine edge; my father’s talents at engineering and set design played a large factor into the grandeur and quirks of the house itself.

The front door was a heavy wooden masterpiece. A large opaque glass oval window allowed you to glimpse the hues of the house interior. I also recall that there was an etched hummingbird in the center of the door; a reflection of my mother’s love for birds.

One was greeted by hand-laid parquet wooden floors (laid by my mother) upon entry. A solid wall of mirror was on the immediate left, and a vast living room sat opposite. The living room had Spanish mission flair; deep green couches and trendy leather chairs beckoned one to sit in luxury. Splendid oil paintings (done by a friend prior to his becoming famous) adorned richly yellow walls. Heavy curtains festooned a row of windows on the far wall, joining the living room and dining room together in this “L” shaped space. My father lovingly restored an antique organ, and this anchored one wall visually. The living and diving rooms also incorporated several china cabinets into the mix and these were filled with silver serving pieces, platters, exquisite china and sentimental trinkets. The living room was “formal only” and I was not permitted to sit upon the furniture unless company had come to call. We walked through the front door, refrained from stepping into the living room, and proceeded directly to the Grand Central Station of the home – the family room.

Our family room had a lovely brick fireplace. The room itself was simply enormous. My mother never could decide how to decorate the space. It served as a breakfast nook, a television room, a piano room and a host of other things during our residency. The kitchen sat directly off of the family room and had a small entry door into the dining room (where the L branched to.) Opposite the kitchen was the hallway leading to the bedrooms and baths. Entry to the back yard could be gained from the family room as well.

I can not recall much of the bedrooms. My own room was originally shades of reds, whites and pinks. I personally chose a bright red shag rug for this room when the builders supplied us with samples. Do cut me some slack, dear Readers – I was only two years of age.

My parents’ room had double doors and an en suite bath. The color was blue until Mum replaced the 70’s gold carpeting with deep green rugs. There was a room set up as an office, which we all called the Library until computers came along. This room had solid bookshelves on all the walls and a desk floated in the middle of the room. The guest room was my Nonna’s retreat until she passed and then it was transformed into the television room. My own room was the largest of the bedrooms, secondary to the master suite.

If I look back upon it, I would have to say that I recall my room as being eternally messy. My mother kept a spotless home and I preferred to simply climb over mountains of books and toys. I had my bed and dresser as well as a large desk. My father constructed built-in shelving around my large window and added a bench seat to complete the look.

I had no real theme to the madness. The room reflected my eclectic tastes. It was never frilly or overtly girly. I did have some collectable china and hand stitched dolls from my paternal grandmother (Nugymama) in her attempt to mollify my feminine side (or perhaps she was trying to draw it out?) The room actually assumed an androgynous elegance when I hit my “Oriental period” in my early teens (my favorite Christmas gift from my parents was not the stereo system but the ivory Chinese statue.) If I could latch onto one childhood treasure from that room, it would certainly be the cardstock pteranodon mobile my father and I made when I was in the first grade.

The kitchen was not the heart of the home. This is not to say that it did not serve that purpose! My mother is an exceptional cook and simply did not like people getting under foot. I would sit at the counter and watch her as she baked (she would lose track of measurements if interrupted) or else my father and she would collaborate on a meal. My father is a surprisingly good cook in his own right, and is very talented when it comes to making pastas and breads from scratch.

Our backyard was luxury. My mother designed the swimming pool shape and constructed a heavy brick wall to stave off the embankment. My father installed an underwater sound system (a speaker placed in the pool wall with underground wires leading back into the house) and the music could only be heard if one’s head was below the surface of the water. We had a covered porch and plenty of patio furniture and plants. The yard was the setting for many a cast party after the close of a production.

Our property backed a concrete arroyo. These are common in California: it is a constructed concrete waterway that gathers rain runoff and leads to the sewer system. Approximately eight feet deep, with slanting walls and a bottom that was around six feet in width, arroyos provided endless hours of entertainment – provided our parents did not catch us in them! Our particular arroyo ran the entire block and if I walked it I would simply have to climb over the chain link fence into an elementary school playground at the end of the block. Arroyos are rather fun things but we soon learned to scrabble up the sloped walls at the first indication of thunder; flash floods and waterways are a deadly combination.

The saddest day in my life was our final morning in that house. I can recall walking through all the empty rooms with a feeling of overwhelming sorrow. So many delightful memories were wrapped up in those walls. Everything that I knew was contained under that roof. We were not moving to a new California home, but to Colorado. I bid each element a teary farewell, despite being in my teens and much to old to hold anthropomorphic views.

I leaned against the television room wall and relished the cool feel of the smooth surface against my face as I said goodbye to my Nonna one last time. I ran my hand over the kitchen counter and recalled all the holiday meals prepared in the kitchen. I sat in my empty bedroom and cried. I sprawled upon the textured concrete surrounding the pool and ran my hands in the cool water for a while and then forced myself to memorize the patterns of the tile under my fingertips. I waited until my parents were speaking to the movers outside, and then did a few cartwheels in the living room. My parents allowed me the honor of locking the house up – I was the last of my family to touch that beautiful etched hummingbird in the front door.

I own my own home now and my appreciation for the seemingly insurmountable task of interior decorating dauntingly on the horizon. It has been two years of residency and to date the only element I am pleased with is my efforts in the hallway (discounting the horrific state of the wood floor on the top landing.) I have the urge to nest as my mother did before me and my heart itches to complete this task. For nearly twenty years I have not found a house that could replace my childhood home. I realize now that I have indeed found one; my desire to transform this house into a paradigm of emotional security tugs at every fiber of my being.

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Pam Aries said...

I have been waxing nostalgic lately and yuor post really took me back! I enjoyed your description of your childhood home! I have never owned my own house and it something I regret!