Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Can you go home again?

Those who have read my ‘60s book, THE ME GENERATION…BY ME know I spent the entire decade in one house in Woodland Hills, California. Needless to say, it is filled with memories (the embarrassing ones are all included in the memoir – in fact, that’s most of the memories). This was the era of suburban housing developments, and my parents were the first owners. They sold it ten years later.

A few years ago, to promote the book (BUY the damn thing already!) my pal, Howard, Great Big Radio, Hoffman and I set out to Woodland Hills to make a book trailer for YouTube. I thought it would be fun to tour the old house. The lovely 150 year-old woman who owned it practically chased us off the property with her cane. It was literally “You kids get off my lawn!” So we filmed a segment on the sidewalk before she called the SWAT team. (The trailer is included at the bottom of the post.)

Recently, my childhood friend, Wende, who spent many carefree hours in my house pleading with her mother, “Can we GO?” noticed there was a estate sale. So naturally I barreled down there. It was my one chance to walk through my house again and maybe buy some shower curtain rings.

First I should mention that I had never been to an estate sale. I like to buy my spools and scissors new. So I was unprepared for what I initially saw. There was junk and chotskies everywhere. Like a 99 Cent store after a typhoon. I wanted to yell out, “I vacuumed these carpets for hours for THIS?!”

Needless to say it was strange to walk through the house after all these years. Everything seemed smaller, which I hear is quite common. I was smaller then, and as everyone knows, houses shrink.

The real weirdness came when I entered my old room. A woman was manning a card table selling knitting needles and pantyhose purchased in 1983. (If they found and sold the condoms I bought in 1966 I want half.) Other people wandered in and out. And even though it’s been decades, my reaction was: “What are these strangers doing walking through my bedroom?” A lot of uh…private stuff went on in that room and here are people just violating my space. (At least a few bought things.)

I must’ve spent a half hour walking through the house. Each room unleashed a flood of memories. Happy times, life lessons (most learned the hard way), and remembering loved ones who were so alive then and now are gone.

I left feeling very wistful. I can’t imagine ever walking in there again (unless to return the stapler I bought for a dollar if it doesn’t work). At one time it was my home. Now I felt like I didn’t belong. On the other hand, being back, I symbolically revisited that kid who grew up there and hopefully took some of “him” home with me. It’s amazing the things you find at estate sales.

33 comments:

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

At least your home is still there. Mine was razed to make way for a parking lot.

Janice said...

I can totally relate. I grew up on Jumilla (house had the same rock roof as yours) in Woodland Hills and hung out at Topanga all the time. Grab an Orange Julius and browse Pickwick Books. Thanks for the smile this morning.

Carol said...

I really want Ken to write a sequel to his Me Generation book all about his life and career in the 70's. (and I want to hear the story of how you met your wife, because I like stories like that.)

He said once that he'd write a sequel if enough people bought the first book, so come on people. Buy the book. It's good and funny. And I want the sequel, darn it.

Paul Duca said...

As Ken has previously mentioned, this house is in the development where they filmed the Bob Hope movie BACHELOR IN PARADISE.

Too bad they didn't have a Lana Turner to sell...

Howard Hoffman said...

That lady who lived there was a piece of work. Her insistance that your family never lived there and her husband bought it new (from the previous owner!) while her caregiver kept rolling her eyes was classic. Somehow, it shouldn't surprise either of us that the estate sale was wall-to-wall crap which she was afraid we were going to steal.

My only regret was not rolling video when you talked to her through the metal bars. That was one epic conversation.

Mike Botula said...

Metal bars on the windows! That's an 80's decorator touch. My old house has plywood sheets nailed over all the windows and doors and is viewed as a neighborhood architectural tragedy. But, it was nice to hear you use your Radio Voice!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Thank you for a very sweet and poignant story...

A couple of times over the past thirty years, I've driven by our old family house in Burbank but I was always reluctant to stop and bother the people inside for a looky-loo.

...afraid someone would make me cut the lawn or wash the car...

Joseph Scarbrough said...

You lived in one house for an entire decade? I haven't lived anywhere more than three years. :(

norm said...

I bought the book, and 2 others.
Hope you made $$$ on them.
2 months ago we sold the old farm house I grew up in. Yeah it was strange to look at now.

YEKIMI said...

Went back to Florida in the mid 90s to look at the house I grew up in in the 60s. Didn't have the guts to go up and knock on the door. So just drove by it several times. Surprised that not one of the residents called the cops thinking I was casing the neighborhood. Hadn't changed too much; a tree that I had planted when parents first moved into it in '62 was monstrous sized now and I was surprised it hadn't been cut down. In ground swimming pool had replaced the back yard. No more lawn mowing! Ingenious! Google mapped it recently and went to street view. About the only changes I could see were that the Yucca plants we had as a hedge were gone but my tree was still there. TV antenna I used to climb on to get to the roof was gone, guess they have cable now, and noticed that the roof was now a standard asphalt roof. Used to be pebble coated held down by tar or something. Remember having to replace all that anytime a hurricane or big tropical storm came through and stripped it all off. Also noticed that the woods I used to play in as a kid was now a housing development and the neighborhood was pretty run down. When we had moved in it was a fairly new housing development, just a couple of years old. Recently the sandlot where I used to play baseball has just had some condos or something go up. I was surprised that it had not been developed years ago. Only thing I didn't do was repeat the walk from my house to the elementary school I used to go to. Never realized that it was an almost 1 1/2 mile walk. Had so many adventures on that walk or so it seemed. Lyrics from that Alphaville song kept going through my head: "Forever young. I want to be forever young..." But overall it was sort of depressing. Guess the old adage "you can't go home again" seems fitting after all.

Dan Ball said...

Great post today, Ken!

I've only been away from home for about five years now and I've gone back almost every other weekend since then to do laundry at my parents' house and it's been strange. At first, I wanted to move back just to have access to all my old haunts until a few months ago, when I hung out with some of my old buddies. They came to town and we went to all those places and I was good after that. I didn't need to go back to those places or even move back. I don't necessarily love Louisville, but Lexington just doesn't feel like home anymore, even though my parents still live there. It's a weird feeling to be 'home'-less.

frank paradise said...

After more than thirty years away I walked back into my old East Vancouver neighbourhood and could barely recognize it. All the old houses like ours had been replaced by new monster homes that I was half expecting Rod Serling to emerge out of to shoo me away.

Anonymous said...

I still have trouble driving down the street where I spent the years from 5 to 22 when I got married. So much has changed, a lot for the better, but the old neighbors are gone and I just can't stand to see a fence around the yards we ran roughshod over the neighborhood. :-) My parents lived there for another 15 years then moved to a smaller house. It will never be the same, but such great memories in that neighborhood.

thanks for the trip!

Pam, St. Louis

benson said...

Boy, everything seems smaller is the truth. I've seen pictures of the house I grew up in on a real estate site, and, yes, the stucco is gone and it's a different color, but still it seems so small. And the interior pictures, they totally are different from my memories. Still, if I won the lottery, after the '59 Catalina, it would be my second purchase.

Hamid said...

I laughed out loud at the bit in the trailer which showed the sign altered by students to read "These doors are closed during ass time".

OK, so I'm easily amused.

thomas tucker said...

Very funny video- thanks! That made my day.

thomas tucker said...

btw, I agree with Carol- we want the sequel.

Scott o. said...

Thanks for this post. My siblings and I are in the process of selling the house in a San Diego suburb we all grew up in since our mother passed away last August at the age of 91. It'd been owned by her since 1948 and she (and my dad) were the original owners. I figure every family member I ever knew has been there at one time or another.

Mike Barer said...

That post inspired me, when I visit Walla Walla, my brother lives near our old house at 104 Leonard (we had moved years before he was born, but we walk the dogs past there and that spurs lots of memories. Then we drive by our old house on South Palouse, where the current owners spent thousands to remodel after my dad sold the house to them. It really brings back the memories.

Johnny Walker said...

What a lovely post. I returned to a few haunts from my teenage years a while back. I was amazed how many feelings and memories came flooding back. It left me feeling very wistful, too.

At times in my adult years, I've lamented, "If only I'd spent my teenage years doing something productive, I'd be a world class expert by now! What a waste!"

But what I learned, when all those memories came flooding back, was that I hadn't wasted those years: I'd spend them having the type of carefree fun you can't repeat as an adult, and I was left feeling very content in the knowledge that I'd more or less do everything the same now, given the excitement I felt then.

Dan Ball said...

Those are some good thoughts, Johnny.

D. McEwan said...

I'd love to walk through my childhood home again, but some bastards demolished it a decade ago, and built TWO houses where our one stood. And ours was the only house on the entire block from my childhood that was gone. All the other houses I grew up around were still there. Only my childhood had been bulldozed.

Dennis said...

My parents still live in the same house I grew up in. My mother has barely changed my room. Many of the same neighbors are still there. Frankly, it's creepy.

Mitch said...

Funny video, Ken. I'm surprised that your old locker isn't full of dents and covered with 15 coats of paint. Also, I'm impressed that you could find it. My alma mater razed the building that housed my locker. They should have done that while I was attending.

RCP said...

Funny and wistful post. I've driven by my childhood home in Virginia (four bedrooms, two baths on an acre of land purchased for $17,500 in 1960) and the house itself looks the same; the differences are the fences and the McMansions that have replaced a number of original mid-century houses (and open yards) that used to line the street. Nice memories overall.

James Van Hise said...

Never had a chance to miss the house I grew up in as my father owned it for 55 years, up until the day he died, and since this was back East I stayed there every time I went back to visit. After he died in 2010 my brother and I sold it so even now it is barely in the past.

McAlvie said...

Yeah, that's a tough one. When my parents downsized and got rid of the old house, people kept asking if I missed my old home. Actually, not. There were a lot of good times there, and I have a lot of good memories. But as I told them, my parents only moved houses; they took the home part with them.


My uncle was recently in the old neighborhood and he said the whole thing had changed so much he couldn't be sure which house was ours. That removed any lingering desire I might have had to revisit my childhood.

Kaleberg said...

I grew up in a co-op in Queens, NY, maybe a mile or so from LaGuardia Airport. I haven't been back to the old place since shortly after my father died in 1989, but I recently saw a Yelp review for it. It was by a young lawyer who had written hundreds of Yelp reviews. He even went to Yelp reviewer parties. Apparently, he grew up in the projects and loved being a home owner. He loves the Northridge Co-op, Section II, for the same reasons my parents did. It was modestly priced and the maintenance included all utilities which meant you bought electric power and gas wholesale, not retail. He noted that some of the original tenants are still living there. The place was built in 1951, so you can guess that they are getting on. I wonder if some of them were parents of my friends. To be honest, from the online photos I could find on Google and various real estate sites, the place doesn't seem to have changed much. Yeah, the ethnic mix at Public School 148 has changed a bit, and I gather they replaced the coal furnace with gas heat, but otherwise the neighborhood hasn't changed all that much either.

P.S. This Yelp reviewer was a real character. His review of a restaurant with communal tables was hilarious. "It was like being on two dates at once, mine and the one next to us. At least this time it wasn't a breakup date. That was a real downer." He's a litigator. I wonder if he is this funny in court.

lee woo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Storm said...

My family had to sell our funky Addams Family-lookin' house in San Francisco when my father was diagnosed with cancer; we owned it from '67-'05. It was built in the 1880s (survived The 1906 Quake AND The Fire) and arguably the zaniest, hippiest house in the neighbourhood; peeling paint, strange faces sculpted into the handrails on the front steps, poetry and sketches on the walls. My parents were radical artist types, and very involved in activism of all kinds, especially the American Indian Movement; the Indian takeover of Alcatraz was planned in our living room, and fugitives from the debacle at Wounded Knee hid out in our basement. All sorts of freaks and weirdbeards from all over the world knew my house and would appear at the door unannounced when they were in town.

It's now owned by a wealthy super-yuppie couple that ripped that glorious kook-nest down to its foundations and made it all "modern" inside (I saw photos online and burst into tears of rage), and I hope like hell that they get disturbed by random zanies on the goddamn regular.

It's all rather a metaphor for my feelings about San Francisco in general now; the creative, weird, friendly place I loved and called home is replaced with evil yuppies stankin' up the place.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

VP81955 said...

Somehow, the Beatles' "In My Life" should be playing in the background...

I last saw my childhood home, in the Valley section (far South Side) of Syracuse, N.Y., in the summer of 2002 -- strictly on a whim; I had no inherent reason for visiting, just felt like driving there.

The neighborhood, an early '50s-style subdivision, was more leafy than when I'd left the 'hood in 1970. But at least I resisted the urge to go into the house and check it out without the knowledge of the current occupants. (Some of you may recall Goldie Hawn did something like that some years ago with her childhood home in Takoma Park, Md., just across the District line.)

The Valley house and neighborhood wasn't the same, by any means, and it isn't now, as a glance at Google Maps shows. The city bus stop at the corner which I used to go to school or visit downtown isn't there anymore -- heck, bus service is nearly dead in Syracuse. But that's another story. I still am fond of that town, yet am smart enough to realize that the Syracuse of 2015 isn't the Syracuse in which I entered the world in 1955, or which I so fondly recall from 1965. But I'm different, too.

Perhaps it explains why in her final few decades, my mother exhibited little nostalgia for the Brooklyn in which she grew up. You move on.

Dave Dubell said...

Hey Ken, what a rush down Memory Lane. I too grew up in Woodland Hills and in a home by the same builder as your childhood home too! So odd to see the old place and remember so many of the same things. Topanga Plaza and Ice Skating lessons for so many years followed by the Jolly Roger for Shirley Temples. The pictures you posted of the estate sale jogged my memory further as the interior layout was exactly like the one I grew up in. I haven't been by the old place in a few years aside from virtually via Google Maps, but after all these years there are still people I know living there...now of course I shall have to visit there again!

Anonymous said...

Memories? A lifetime of days playing on the perfect grass, roller skating on the sidewalk, riding bikes around the block, playing hide-n-seek with EVERYONE for blocks around during a summer evening...

I have spent years out of California and away from the Valley home I grew up in.
My last time through was in 2014.
I drove past with my sister and was so saddened at the deterioration of not just our home but the entire neighborhood.
Our parents bought this home on Delco Ave (near Sherman Way & Mason) for $15,000 in 1954.
Now, the value is sky-high and the place is a dump.
Yes I have dreams of going inside, looking in closets and seeing my bedroom but I think these dreams are better left to paper and pen.