|photo courtesy of Lauren Rodriguez|
These are my kids. I don't say this because I deserve a parenting trophy, but on Mondays Wednesdays, and Fridays I pick them up from school. I say it because the thing is an ordeal and the ordeal is a thing. It goes like this: Retrieve the boy from the infant room and lug his heavy ass and all of his gear to the car. Drive to his toddler sister’s school where she and her sass get loaded.
Between the loading and the arriving (and subsequent unloading), we each have a need. My son's is simple, envious: Keep it down so that I may squeeze in a nap that lasts from the start of the car ride 'til you unbuckle me later with three seconds to spare before you load my mouth full of hot, dry dinner, then a pre-bedtime bottle. His sister's need involves telling me multiple times (and in no certain order) that she a) doesn't want to go home, and b) wants her mama. The distance between my admiration for my son's need and the shitty feeling I get from listening to my daughter offer her reminders is much longer than the drive from school to home. My need is frequently hopeless: Keep the fussing and crying to a minimum.
Last Thursday, as we loaded, my daughter began her anti-home proclamation and I announced a surprise: We were going to NanaJuj's house for one last time.
Before we continue, I have to share an exchange with my daughter that took place four Thursdays prior. It started upon the conclusion of a 20-minute phone conversation in my driveway with the kids in the car. My mom was on the other end and we'd been discussing the impending sale of her home:
Adeline: "Who was that?
Me: "Because she wanted to talk to me."
Me: "Because she's going to go live in a new house."
Me: "Well...because sometimes people have to find new houses that will be better for them than the ones they live in. Like when Elihu was in Mama's tummy. We needed to move out of the yellow house because it wasn't going to be big enough anymore. Nanajuj's house is too big right now, so she needs to find a smaller one."
After a few moments of silence, Adeline extended her hand and displayed straightened index finger and thumb, just a pencil's width apart from one another: "Like this?"
Anyway, we made our way over to NanaJuj’s and by the time we got there, I was the only one not enjoying a car nap.
As I placed my key in the deadbolt one final time, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure how I would feel when I stepped inside. Things were so different now. I’d been in there a few days before and navigated the sea of boxes. I’d hauled a few remaining bags of trash to the curb, and I peed one last time in the downstairs bathroom.
Forty-six twelve West 69th Terrace had not been the house I’d visited during winter and summer college breaks for over 15 years now. My mom had moved into my old room next to that downstairs bathroom and long since had the cozy wall-to-wall carpeting pulled, the hardwoods beneath refinished. Many months had passed since the last time my dog and I had loaded the Toyota pickup and traversed Colorado and Kansas for a Prairie Village sojourn that would guarantee many mornings of late slumber.
It had been even longer since my days of the rusty, mocha Corolla, ever-puttering between work, the next party, and the house. That car had been the perfect 4612 sneak-out getaway vehicle, and 69th Terrace the ultimate launch ramp. Once safe in the car, emergency brake off, clutch depressed, all it took was a Fred Flintstone foot push, and I’d be sailing down the street. The only tricky part was making sure the basement window didn’t come loose of its lone hinge while crawling out of it and then back in.
Longest ago of all, though, was the fall of 1986. I remember when we first drove past it. Mom still had her shitty little ’81 Tercel, which she slowed as we rolled past the home she’d just purchased from Mark and Mary Ann Woodward. It seemed like a nice enough house, the shake shingles in their natural hue, the shutters and doors a mix of Cerulean and steel blue with a whisper of green. In the 10 seconds we spent looking at it, it didn’t feel like our house. I’d not seen the inside and, aware that we were about to forge a relationship with our sixth home in five years, my head spun a touch.
Just as I found myself wondering why the Woodwards would sell -- why they would move themselves and their kids from such a nice-looking place -- I noticed the sign staked in the front yard of the due-west neighbors. It was white with all-capital red letters: GAYLA AND HER PAL SAL HAD A BABY GAL. WELL, SWELL.
I know, given the Internet and sports venues and people on the news that picket stupid shit, that I have seen worse signs, but that one’s up there on the list of real-life, in-your-neighborhood crappy signs. Nice gesture. Sure. But you had it at “gal.” Those last two words aren’t clever. They’re clumsy, and they undermine the supposed congratulatory sense of the previous nine. But no big deal. It was those Woodwards that troubled me. Why had they sold? Had the mice scared them? And why were there so many old doors on the high shelves in the garage? Perhaps they, too, had outgrown, or relocated because of new jobs.
Our first evening there was a trip. It involved several gallons of Killz to cover the wood paneling in the dining room and dinner to go from Wendy’s in the Village. It involved goofing around in our new empty rooms, a practice to which my sister and I had grown accustomed. We may as well have leapt repeatedly for hours in the centers of our respective fresh spaces, arms flailing, teeth bucked: “This is gonna be my room! This is gonna be my room!”
All of that excitement had waned as we left, a certain sadness hovering; the desire for it to be officially ours still lacked that first-sleep christening.
But we took root there and made those rooms our own. Mom’s upstairs master with bath, the strange crawl-space shoe closet and hallway of wardrobes boasted the home’s only other television set, a 19-inch unit perched on the edge of her dresser, angled for from-the-bed viewers to watch on their stomach, head in hands.
Down the wardrobe hallway was the attic and for years, a window-mount air-conditioning unit sat -- but seldom ran -- in the sill nearest the bathroom, ever the reminder of the expensive difficulty of trying to cool that room in a Kansas City summer.
My sister’s room was the first you came to as you entered the hallway from the living room. It had a nice view of the front yard and still lacks a proper door. For most of 30 years it hosted twin beds like mine had done in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. Our mom and a friend had painted it and put up a wallpaper border, adding to the girlish effect offered by the sheer, white linen window curtains. Tiffany spent most of her adolescence in that room with those double, wooden-slat doors closed, music playing, her ear attached to the telephone receiver connected to her own line.
Her room’s immediate neighbor was the hall closet and beside it was the main bathroom. Across the hallway was my room, and for our first few years in that house, the twin beds were in there until growth and the spatial layout of both rooms dictated that Tiffany’s room was better suited for the pair. Of the home’s three bedrooms, none underwent more changes than mine across those three decades. It was painted, then painted again. It went from Lego/model car/trophy display to sports (Nerfoop closet-door basketball with Sports Illustrated posters of George Brett and Spud Webb and a three-quarter pie circle of random pennants) to music cavern (that included an Eddie Van Halen shrine and miscellany Led Zeppelin imagery).
For a brief spell, various swimsuit-model cutouts from some forgotten, low-rate magazine graced its walls. They were only up for a day or so until Mom said, "Those girls were trashy.” She suggested the SI swimsuit issue and when I plastered the walls with Kathy Ireland and Elle McPherson, she said, “Those girls are better. Now move them all to the basement.”
My room developed into a thing in that house. My music collection grew as did my need for privacy, so I purchased a key-lock doorknob to prevent (in my absence) the entrance of unwanted or unauthorized (or both) visitors. Mom loved that. In it, though, I read Choose-Your-Own Adventure books, flirted with the idea of becoming an artist, cleared the until-then lifelong struggle with bedwetting, forged relationships with all of the KCFX/101/The Fox disc jockeys, spent hundreds of hours studying album-liner notes (and considerably fewer studying for school), practiced guitar, constructed bongs (Editor’s Note: Sorry, Mom.), spied on Nocturnal Ed (who moved into Cal and Faye Jones’ home to our east after their family -- with kids Bo and Allison -- needed more space), built a desk with my father, and for many a precious hour, I slept.
That house, though, met many other needs.
For starters, it had a really nice backyard. Countless afternoons I'd be back there playing soccer and baseball with Cord Criss, Mike Canning, Nate Wilke, Brian Carter. Dozens of summer nights Tiffany and I spent playing German Spotlight and Flashlight Tag with Pat Weston and Grant Luck. It was in that yardthat I really developed my mowing handle. I learned what a beautiful, difficult thing Zoysia can be. I developed an appreciation for the two massive trees that cast shade and awe and a steady supply of sticks upon the yard. And it became clear that -- for the rest of my life -- I would battle allergies.
I discovered the horror of weeding a brick patio, cut my edging gums on concrete pavers, enjoyed the first of many backyard barbecues, and recognized the difference between conversations with neighbors in the backyard versus chatting with those same neighbors out front. It became clear very soon that the charm of the Prairie Village trees (of which there must be tens of thousands) comes with a price tag: raking. It became clear almost as soon that, if you’re my sister, there are limitless plots and excuses to utilize that will get you out of the leaf-bagging hell that is P.V. in the fall.
The driveway of 4612 was easily the shittiest basketball court in North America, but it was two other things: It was hard-earned and it was fucking mine. I've written about it before: the unearthing of that pole from my father's Jarboe house while he polluted the air with ulcery, Cheerio-breath belches, the cross-town transport of it in his hoopty, then the waiting, followed by the pouring of the concrete, then more waiting. Then came the plywood purchase, the removal of Mike's backboard so we could trace it. Then we cut it and mounted it and I waited some more. Then we put up the rim and I shot a few hoops before riding my bike down to Nill Brothers to buy a net. Back on my bike, I returned to the store to tell them the ball wouldn't come out of it.
"Hose it down," they said. It felt stupid to do, and it annoyed me and got my court wet, but I hosed that net down three or four times and shot a wet ball that would splat in my face as it hit the driveway, but it was all worth hearing swoosh for the first time as I drained a three (beyond the third sidewalk crack) that didn’t require a broom handle for ball retrieval. I’ve replaced that net a few times over the years. The square we painted on the backboard has long since faded, and I just wasn’t destined to be tall enough to dunk a mini ball, but boy did I log some hours shooting on that ancient goal. Of course it sucked when my sister got older and she needed/wanted to practice, too, but by that time I was too busy hoarding Camel Cash and pretending I was Jimmy Page.
As basketball surfaced as something serious for my sister, Dad got her a basketball for her birthday. Much -- and I do mean much -- has been made over the fact that this was not a store-bought, still-in-the-box basketball, but looking back I think that there couldn’t have been a more perfect basketball for her to shoot hoops with on that slave-labor fossil of a goal, there in that shitty driveway court. He could have ignored her wish or told her that basketball wasn’t for girls. Instead, he did what he most often did in the way of gift giving: He found something seasoned.
That house didn't just have yards and bedrooms, and a sports artifact, though.
It had a nice living room (in which I stood to take this photo) that we were never allowed to sit in unless it was on the floor for Christmas morning. We enjoyed the tranquil warmth of that pictured fireplace maybe twice in 30 years. It had an elegant dining room that served as the location for many a Thanksgiving meal for us and for Mom’s out-of-town clan. The family room (just beyond the dining room) had been converted from a screened-in porch, a wise choice by some previous owner. It had not, however, been insulated, which was considerably less wise. We were lucky that this house came with what most families refer to as a furnace. But our luck ended there as our thrift-cautioned, warm-blooded mother did not believe in the use of such an appliance.
The frigid family room served as a typical den. For a short stretch we were allowed to, on occasion, eat dinner on TV trays until Tiffany stood up and launched a glass of grape juice upon the carpet that Mom would have professionally cleaned about seven times a year. But this was the room in which we gathered for The Cosby Show and Cheers on Thursdays, Quantam Leap on Wednesdays, and Chiefs games on those cold, cold Sundays. It was the room in which Mom watched Dallas and Dynasty and Falcon Crest and Scarecrow & Mrs. King. It was my sister’s after-school haven in which she consumed pallets of Doritos and mainlined episodes of Saved by the Bell. It was my spot for hours of after-school Super Mario Bros. and my locale for those special, free-cable-for-a-month Friday nights with Cinemax (Note: Sorry, Mom.).
The family room also served as a source of joy -- I mean, aside from all of her garbage television -- for our mom as it was where my sister’s friends would gather with JuJu and catch her up to speed on their lives, which I think served a dual purpose: She felt connected to her daughter and her daughter’s life, but also maybe experienced a rekindling of that old school-age popularity. The practice of Tiffany’s friends was two things: a) neat, and b) the polar opposite of what my friends would do, which was attempt, as quickly as possible, to cover the short distance from the front door to the basement steps, wave hello, and bolt to the basement where the rest of us were gathered playing ping-pong and listening to music and throwing darts and smoking cigarettes and totally not drinking beer or ripping tubes.
It looked exactly like this only with yellow paint instead of blue, Kathy Ireland pictures covering that paneling, a ton of shelving with old toys, trunks and chests, a weight bench, a That '70s Showesque circle of chairs, a cloud of smoke, and minus those wall supports. While there are several other sections to the 4612 basement, it was this area that was almost always the starting point (and occasionally the ending spot) to weekend nights in high school.This home was the source of our family’s security for Mom’s full-time jobs at Leiweke & Co., MetLife, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Andrews/McMeel Publishing, Holy Cross Early Education Center, and her part-time gigs at Tiffany Town and Sylvester Powell Community Center. While living there I worked at the Brookside Euston Hardware, TCBY, Hen House, Leo’s Pizza, and Tippin’s. The youngest of us will tell you she had more than one job while collecting mail on 69th Terrace, but in truth she only worked at The Better Cheddar. As a matter of fact, I think she still works there; any claims of directorship at First Lutheran Early Education Center are but a façade.
and the creeps next door to the Baders with the corroded toilets and the dogs buried in the back yard and the people after them and the people after them all leave, as did the couple that moved into the old man’s house on the other side of the Toccos. We’ve watered and mowed and raked and shoveled and trimmed and painted and dusted and Windexed and Lysoled and Cometed and vacuumed that house 1,000 times over. We dealt with plumbing issues, the old-ass movable dishwasher, the crummy windows that Mom had Grant replace. We’ve wrestled over the thermostat in the winter, the AC in the summer. Collectively, we’ve owned 10 cars and sundry bicycles, laundered several tons of clothing, argued over hot water and phone-line hogging.
We were proud Prairie Panthers, Indian Hills Warriors, Shawnee Mission East Lancers, Pittsburg State Gorillas, Kansas Jayhawks, Fort Lewis College Skyhawks, and UMKC Roos while this home was our foundation. We’ve seen two KU hoops titles and…uh, yeah. None of our other teams have even come close since then. But, we made hundreds of trips to P.V. Pool, rented movies from the old video store, got our gear at Nill Brothers, had our lessons at The Toon Shop, and got our drugs (not the good ones) (Note: Sorry, Mom. Last time.) from Bruce Smith, our clothes from The Jones Store, and cashed our checks at Johnson County Bank. We had a ton of friends, a safe community, a park up the street, and really, an overall fantastic experience on 69th Terrace.
Forty-six twelve was often a source of stress for JuJu, who, whether she could help it or not, passed that stress on to me and Tiffany. I can now attest that home ownership always will be, and now that the sale is final, she is free from it. But it was a great house. I’ll bet she never imagined that, almost 30 years ago, the last two people to be in her driveway would be her sleeping grandchildren.
And dude from Oregon who’s moving in: It will be a great house for you, too. We left good vibes and a sense of family in it. I think we killed all of the mice and eliminated their entry points. The doors in the garage, however, are your deal now.
I'm leaving you in charge of my room. It may not look like it now, but trust me: That place is coated in layers of awesome.