Eastmoreland in the 30's
It was the smell of root beer brewing in the basement. Or at least that’s what they told her. My grandmother was young and she can still remember Central Gardens in the days of prohibition. She, her mother, and her mother’s mother all lived at 1615 (as you know, real Midtowners call their homes by the house number). 1615 was just one block behind where I live now. I wonder when the day will come where they tell us, or our children, that we can travel through time. For now, living in Central Gardens scratches the itch. My grandmother never has to paint a backdrop for her stories. It’s exactly the same backdrop of the life I’m living now, almost 100 years later. Every time my floors squeak, I’m reminded that someone has trod this path before me. The night the Titanic sank, somebody was tossing and turning in my house. Lindbergh’s flight was discussed among family members in these walls on the very day it happened. Someone had to determine how to hang onto this family home during the Depression, and they may have celebrated with a Benny Goodman swing dance in the entry hall when WWII ended. Some days were Neil Armstrong days while other days were Piggly Wiggly days. I can just imagine a teenage daughter running to the living room after she realized Elvis had recorded his first record just around the corner. Then swooning, of course! I’m not entirely sure what swooning is, but my grandmother knows. You just can’t learn about swooning from a history book. When I tell my children her stories, when we read the books she’s passed down to us (the ones she used to read on Eastmoreland like “Uncle Wiggly”) and when we drive through our neighborhood, we hear a message whispered to us. It’s one that a wise old book told us long ago: “There is nothing new under the sun.” At first blush, that thought strikes me as hopeless. Depressing, even. Actually, however, hope can be found there, and in the streets of Central Gardens. This watching time go by…this is life. This is what it is to be human. When I pass 1615 and I imagine my grandmother walking her duck to school on a leash like she used to do everyday (which ironically seems like something that would be new under the sun, but I guess not), I take comfort in the fact that people have lived here and people have died here and the sun keeps rising and setting. It’s obvious I’m not the only one who finds a peculiar comfort in squeaky floors, porch-to-porch conversations, wavy windows, picture moulding, plaster walls, tall ceilings, deep window sills, transoms, pocket doors, radiators, penny round tile…these things are like living inside a history book. You can smell them and feel them and hear them and see them. They connect us with the past and teach us lessons we just couldn’t learn in a new book or a new build. And sometimes, if you stop long enough, you can even smell something fantastic brewing in the basement.