The Re-Birth Of Lost Memories: By Stephen B. Allen (Steve Baldyga)
Every instance when the scoop of the excavator enthusiastically tore into the rubble of 16 Seaside Drive, it felt as if another memory—fully forgotten and buried so very long ago—was exhumed from its grave to resonate within my mind! For the old (one hundred-fifty some odd years it had existed on this earth) three-story Victorian-style house being readily demolished just happened to be the site of the very first apartment I ever had of my own.
Standing upon the sidewalk while leaning upon the chain-link fence which surrounded the work site, my official walk down memory lane had begun.
As far as amenities went, the charm about my place was that it had none. My residence had been on the second floor to the rear of the building, accessible from the interior by way of a winding wooden staircase, or from the exterior by one straight and steep. Both stairways met in the middle of a short hallway which led from a bathroom on one end, past the living room/den on the left-hand side, a tiny kitchen on the right (which happened to be located under a sloping roof so you could only stand up along the wall when you first entered and had to scrunch down on the opposite side), culminating at one smallish bedroom at the back with a window which looked out over the parking lot. While said window was lacking in any manner of a pleasant view, it did provide an excellent one of your car—which came in very handy in the winter as it allowed you to determine from the relative warmth of the apartment how much time you would need to allocate for standing out in the freezing cold while scraping the ice from your windshield!
Being a young man in my early twenties when I first moved in, I had all the necessities to survive…a good stereo system and a TV set. I was exceedingly fortunate in that the place came furnished so I didn’t have to end up sleeping on the floor. The only other notable feature to be found was a stove in the kitchen, which I was determined to learn how to use until the day I moved out when that became a moot point.
In short, it was perfect for a young guy’s first apartment.
I had been rather lucky to land it in the first place. When I had heard about it becoming available from my sister and soon to be brother-in-law who lived on the first floor, I immediately approached the owners of the building, a very nice older couple in their mid-seventies by the name of Traceman.. My hopes had been dashed when they informed me how there was actually a waiting list and that I would be third in line! Having filled out an application none-the-less, I was just walking out the door when I was stopped by Mrs. Traceman, who apparently had been reading through the information I had put down. When she inquired if the Jean and Andrew whom I had listed as references were indeed the couple with whom they played cards every Friday evening, when I explained how they were my sister and her fiancée, the line in front of me vanished as if in a puff of smoke…and I was in!
Now that I had secured the apartment, it was time to hit the grocery store and stock up on supplies. Being unattached at the time, I loaded up on good healthy food from the five food groups; frozen pizza, chips, and beer! I made certain that I bought a full range of cleaning supplies…which if left out in plain sight for when the landlord happened to stop by to take a look at the place as this gave the impression that they were being used on a regular basis when they had never even been opened. I even purchased a used vacuum cleaner for the same purpose; now that I did actually use twice—once when I spilled a full bag of sugar on the floor, and immediately afterwards when I discovered the fact that you were supposed to put a bag into the dang thing so that whatever you were wanting to contain from the small spot where you had spilled it didn’t end up blowing all over the place! I kept if in a very obvious place in the corner of the living room yet moved it from corner to corner every weekend just in case I should get a surprise inspection.
Life on your own was paradise! You came and went as you pleased, there wasn’t anybody to answer to, and in the hot months of summer, the wearing of clothing in the apartment could become an option!
From a social perspective, 16 Seaside Drive was the place to be for what was the small group of friends I associated with. With Andrew and Jean living downstairs, and with a friend of ours— “Half-Dead Fred”—moving into one of the apartments on the third floor, there was always something to do.
It was about three months after I had moved in when I started seeing Janice.
We had met ice skating. I had done my usual slipping and ending up flat on my back on the ice directly in the path of a girl preparing to do a twisting jump. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the cold ice with a nice warm girl lying on top of me! I found myself looking upon the face of an angel…which happened to be rather red at the moment; whether this was from embarrassment or the beginning of frostbite I couldn’t be sure.
Attempting to regain our footing while amidst apologizing profusely—her for not watching where she was going and me for getting in her way and causing her to trip—we proceeded to offer our rendition of The Theater Of The Absurd by failing to get to our feet no less than four times as first one followed by the other slipped back onto the ice…usually with having reached out to grab something to steady themselves. The problem was that ‘something’ was actually a ‘someone’…resulting in the both of us ending back where we had started!
It was when we glanced at each other in order to gauge the response of the other that we both broke out in a bout of some serious laughter. If I thought that she was extraordinarily beautiful before, the sight of her smiling and laughing made my heart race!
Eventually, we were finally able to get back on our feet, holding onto the arms of each other for balance. Introducing ourselves, I discovered that her name was Janice and that she happened to be unaccompanied that evening. Offering to buy her a cup of hot chocolate from a nearby vending truck for causing her to trip, she readily agreed.
As we sat by a small fire courtesy of Parks and Rec, we talked as if we had known each other for years. Having been pretty much of a loner when it came to females, I was surprised how easy she was to talk to. It was when she commented that she hadn’t been aware that ice skating was a full-contact sport, my response of “Obviously you’ve never seen The Russian Ice Hockey Team play” caused her to laugh and give me once again that sweet smile.
We parted shortly after, with me promising to call her after she had given me her number.
The next evening, after pacing back and forth throughout the apartment in what I deemed to be a very short hallway, I gathered up the nerve to call her. She sounded very happy to hear from me; once again the conversation flowed effortlessly, and arrangements were made to get together next Friday night.
On the edge of euphoria, I just had to share the good news with somebody, so I ambled down the steps to Andrew and Jean’s place. Receiving the usual greeting to my knock on the door of “Go away, we’re having sex,” when Jean answered the door, she could immediately tell that something was up. Before even sitting down, I excitedly told them of the events of the last two days.
Once Andrew got over clutching his chest and announcing that he was having a heart attack, Jean asked what were we planning on doing with Janice’s seeing-eye dog while we were out!
Talk about a buzz-kill! Ain’t family wonderful?
Friday night finally arrived, and I must say it was a wonderful evening indeed.
The next week, Janice and I probably were responsible for knocking a satellite out of orbit we spent so much time on the phone. The next weekend found us together for Friday evening and Saturday…and life was good!
Spying a number of bricks from must have been the fireplace in Andrew’s apartment in the next bucket of debris the excavator brought up made me think of Andrew. He had been the ‘Social Coordinator’ for our little group. It was him who came up with the concepts of our ‘special’ gatherings, and the coming Saturday night was no exception.
On Wednesday, I had actually had an envelope slipped under my door containing an invitation to a ‘Roaring Twenties’ party at their apartment. Everyone attending had to dress up like they did during that period. It sounded like so much fun that I even let the hand-written comment that ‘I could bring a date if I could get one’ go.
As she was about to meet very special people in my life, Janice was naturally nervous. When she commented that she had absolutely no idea what to wear, I volunteered how I would be happy to come over to her place and help her to get dressed. Responding with that little laugh which I found so adorable, she replied “Yeah…I bet you would!”
Saturday night arrived, and when I went to pick her up, I saw that she wouldn’t have needed my help after all…darn it! She was outfitted as a perfect ‘flapper’ from the period, including the hat and beads. It went well with the costume of a gangster which I was wearing.
She was still a bit nervous once we had arrived, until it was announced how all of the attendees had taken a vote; and it had been determined how she was way too pretty to be with the likes of me. After that, it was as if she was one of us…and it was truly a marvelous time.
When the evening was coming to a close, I asked if she wanted to go see my apartment; to which she immediately agreed. Handing her a glass of her favorite wine, I gave her the tour, then directed her into the living room…where I proceeded to lower the lighting and put some ‘Freeway Jam’ on the stereo.
That night, the living room officially became known as ‘The Den.’ And while a gentleman doesn’t divulge certain things about a lady whom he appears to be falling in love with…well, lets just say that she ended up spending the rest of the weekend!
The next several months flew by. Janice and I were obviously in love; the words ‘we’ and ‘us’ finding their way into our conversations more and more. It soon became obvious to all that an arrangement of a more permanent nature was in our futures.
Noticing what was perched upon the edge of the newest bucket, I asked the foreman whom I had spoken to earlier if it were possible if I could get those pieces before they got dumped into the back of the truck. Slipping the man a twenty, he shouted for the operator to hold up. Several minutes later, he handed me my prize…two of the round wooden balls which had adorned the banister of the front porch.
With the coming of Spring and the moderation of the weather, it was time to re-acquaint ourselves with a sacred tradition which our little group held close to our hearts.
The most important feature about the building was this fairly small size front porch…which had the most perfect set of front steps maybe 10 feet or so off the sidewalk. For six days a week, this was a regularly functioning porch; but on Sunday afternoons that porch transformed into the absolutely perfect place to conduct ‘Porch Sitting’. Porch Sitting consisted of grabbing a cold 6 pack, picking out your spot—most of us regulars had our own favorite spot and thus where we sat was predetermined—and we just talked about nothing and everything, drank our beers, and watched the world go by. You always wanted to be the first to arrive so that you could do your laundry in the one coin-operated washer and dryer in the basement at the same time. Occasionally, a friend or two would stop by and join us; but for the most part it was just our little band.
Naturally, there were always interlopers who wanted to become a part of our little group. I remember how about six months after I had moved in, this girl from the 2nd floor always kept following me around...and naturally wanted to join us in porch sitting. She never brought her own beer, and quite frankly she was a distraction! But I figured as how I had married her, she might as well join us.
Yes…on Valentine’s Day—my idea actually—Janice and I became one in a small ceremony on the steps of 16 Seaside Drive. There was just a few in attendance; both of our immediate families as well as our friends, for that is what they had become. They were no longer just mine.
We lived in what was now ‘our’ apartment for the next six months…and it was like living a waking dream! And while it may have been a bit much climbing that steep exterior staircase each time we came home, I always made sure that I let her go first. I told her that—should she trip and start to fall—this way that I would be there to catch her…which was true. But if I were to be completely truthful, I also did it because I wanted to admire the view!
But all good things must come to an end. Our apartment, perfect as it was just for me, was becoming too small for the both of us. With Jean and Andrew facing the same limitations with theirs, it soon became apparent that the curtain was about to close on our little world. As we were both going to be moving out at the end of the month, Andrew came up with what was his best idea yet for our last hurrah going away party.
The night of the party, everyone arrived with an instrument in hand. There was only one catch, however; it had to be an instrument which you had no idea how to create an actual note on as you had never played it before! There was no music to follow as it would not have made one bit of difference. Andrew raised the tree branch he had brought in from the outside for his wand, we all placed our instruments where we thought they were supposed to be, and for the next twenty minutes or so, created some of the most God-awful screeching and bellowing those tired old walls had ever heard!
And nobody ever called the cops!
That’s how magical this old place was.
Watching the excavator do its work, I was lost in thoughts of magical days gone by, when a familiar voice behind me said “I thought that you would be here.”
Without thinking, I put my arm out to gather my beautiful Janice into an embrace. Sharing a most enjoyable kiss, I was eventually able to tell her that “I had to say goodbye to the old place; for it truly had meant so much to me.”
“To us, My Love,” she corrected me. “While I may not have spent as long a time here as you did, it became as much a part of me as well.”
Nearly overcome with emotion, after a few moments, I was finally able to get out the words “I hate to see the grand old lady end like this,” without shedding a tear. My voice may have cracked once or twice, however.
I mean…after all, it was just an old apartment, right? It was simply plaster, lumber and brick, some paint, a bit of old threadbare carpeting…and yet somehow had magically put me together in a way to be able to meet my soulmate and win her over on that cold night in January.
And now, the grand old lady was gone…gone, but not forgotten.
Being reminded how Jean and Andrew were coming over for dinner in only a few hours, and that she had yet to begin to cook, it came time for one last look…one final fleeting glance which would be the last glimpse I would ever see.
Reaching down to gather my prizes which had been covered by my coat on top, I could hear a sharp intake of breath. “Are those…?” was all she could speak.
“Yes, My Love; they are two of the balls from the front porch banister. We will be taking a small piece of the grand old lady home with us.”
A sudden chill made me want to put on my coat, so I held out the two balls for her to take. “Janice…My Love,” I said to her with the beginning of a grin; “While this may not be the time or the place, I was wondering if you would hold my…pair of round porch banister ornaments for me?”
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