A couple of weeks ago at the “Light up the Lyric” street party downtown, I met a young fellow named Darrell O’Quinn. He was chatting it up with my friend, local journalist/blogger Andre Natta, and I wanted to introduce the missus to Andre, so we sort of butted in, hoping street parties have a relaxed code of etiquette.
Darrell, it turned out, is the current president of the Crestwood North neighborhood, which I gather is the part of Crestwood north of Crestwood Boulevard. I’m glad it has a name now. When I was a kid, we weren’t sure if it was Crestwood or Woodlawn. If you wanted to sound like you had money, it was Crestwood. Otherwise, it was Woodlawn.
Our home across the street from Crestwood Park was a massive place with five or six bedrooms. depending on how you count them. There was an enormous front porch with a glider that my sisters made excellent use of at the end of their dates. (I know, because the front steps – 16 of them – came up next to my bedroom window. I’d hear everything as I sat on my bed listening to the Braves games on my little a.m. radio. My sisters don’t know this, of course. Please don’t tell them.) I’m going into some detail on this because it really was a fascinating place to live, and because a fair number of people who read this were in that house at one time or another.
The main floor of our house had a huge living room, a dining room that housed a baby grand piano used by my mother, a piano teacher, for her recitals, a kitchen, a back bedroom (my dad’s office for his freelance tax business), and my parents’ bedroom.
Up another 16 steps was the apartment where my paternal grandmother lived. At either end of a U-shaped hallway were my sisters’ bedrooms.
Grandmother had her own little kitchen, and prepared her own meals. She had to share a bathroom with my sisters, but nobody complained. She had been born in the 1880s (that meant nothing to me at the time), and she told stories.
Lots of stories. I know she had a lot more, but I was too young and ignorant to ask the right questions. I had no idea what a treasure I had, right there in my own home. But still, I spent many afternoons up in her little apartment. She always had some dried apples or Chips A’hoy Cookies (yes, they’ve been around that long) for snacks. Now and then, there was fudge. We’d watch some TV, and sometimes we’d play a little board game called Carom,where you thumped circular pieces of wood trying to hit the corner pockets, billiards style. Years later, Santa brought my kids a Carom board, but they didn’t see the attraction. Its time had come and gone.
Some of Grandmother’s stories have found their way into this series – notably the one about my dad, as a kid, sitting on the curb waiting on a car to come by because he’d been warned not to cross the street until all the cars had gone by. And there were a lot of stories about my grandfather, Alonzo, her first husband.
I hadn’t known Alonzo (or Lon, as they called him). I didn’t even know his name. But she made him come alive, with stories about how she hated the smell of his cigars so much she made him stand out on the curb to smoke them. She never mentioned it, but in his later years, my father told me that Alonzo also played a mean fiddle, which was a hit at the church gatherings. They were Methodists, but Dad had drifted away and started hanging out with the Baptists. Grandmother wasn’t too happy about that.
(She really was Grandmother. I always felt cheated that that we didn’t have any pet names for any of the grandparents.)
So back to the present — here, on Third Avenue, downtown, this kid (about my son’s age, actually) turns to me and says, “You lived in that big house across from Crestwood Park?”
“Next to the school?”
“Your mother taught music, right?”
OK, that’s getting either very cool or borderline creepy. I wasn’t sure which, so I went with cool.
Apparently, stories are still circulating, and there’s no escape.