Looking Back

20 Jul


I sometimes stalk houses online. This involves map apps and also just searching for the street address. It’s fascinating, what you can find out by Google searching street addresses.

I am particularly interested in houses I used to live in. Are they still there? What have the new people done to them? Can it possibly be good?

The other night, I looked up my West Los Angeles childhood home, and lo and behold, it’s for sale.

This real estate listing has 29 photos, inside and out. This is much, much better than what is offered by map apps.

We moved there around 1964 and moved out in 1970, when I was twelve. The house falls into the general category of what is commonly referred to as Spanish Colonial Revival, which means red tile roofs and lots of arches. It was built around 1930. It has ten rooms including the bathrooms, and an arched picture window in the front room, which we kept obscured by a large split leaf philodendron, Monstera deliciosa, whom we informally called the Monster Plant.


The front of the house looks very much the same now, though all our landscaping, Monster included, has been replaced, mostly by king palm trees. The interior still seems quite familiar. Renovated the kitchen and the bathrooms, they did, but many memorable details remained – doors, windows, alcoves, the general layout, even the oddly textured stucco on the walls. There is my bedroom, with all the windows, that my mother decorated in yellow and green.


There is the den, where I was put to bed one night (why in the den? I don’t remember) when my mother and stepfather had a terrible fight and she came in later to comfort me, concerned that I was frightened. There is the back door, somehow holding drama. Why have I dreamed of that door so often?


And then there was the back yard. The yard where I invented games with my younger siblings, with its elaborate border my mother tended, all sorts of flowering plants. The trellised and tiled patio the parents built alongside the garage, the little patch of ground behind the garage, didn’t we try to grow corn there once? And the honeysuckle-covered fence that I’d climb to ascend to the forbidden garage roof, from which vantage point I could spy on the neighbor’s children, one of whom once retaliated by throwing rocks at me. “It is not right to throw rocks!” I informed him, to little avail.

All gone. Instead, there were pictures of a rectangular swimming pool, looking banal and small.

I sent this link to my mother, and she responded after a day or so. “These pictures kill me,” she said. “So much is the same, and everything that’s different is worse. Put back the philodendron, put back the hydrangea. Get rid of that goddamn swimming pool. Hack down those stupid palm trees. Back, back!”

And though I was inclined to be nice, to think they’d done a good job on the place, such as it was, I could surely understand her sentiments. Put it all back, back the way it was before we were swept away in the face of swimming pools and palm trees and looming futures. Back before all these dramas and disappointments, back to when so much still lay ahead for both of us, as I followed my mother in awe, around this early suburban garden, learning the names of flowers.

7 Responses to “Looking Back”

  1. Dogtowner 2015/07/21 at 12:27 pm #

    Does the house look essentially the same? My sister took a photo of our childhood home (1950 Victoria Street, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) and asked if she should show it to our mother. I told her no, it would have broken her heart. It was a tract house, but a nice, simple Cape Cod tract house — the only home my mother ever had which was not rented — and the current owners had uglified it beyond belief. (The plantings, of course, were all cut down.)

    I never thought of looking to see if it was for sale so I could peek inside. Selling it was one of my mother’s very stupid decisions which she regretted enormously, as she never again lived in a house of her own. If I survive, I’ll probably be one of those old women Mary Wilkins Freeman wrote about, my house sinking into the ground, living in one room to stay warm and dry. For a nonfictional example, see the Ruggles House, now restored, in which Lizzie Ruggles lived in one room in a decaying house. We’re going to see it on Thursday!


    • Miep 2015/07/21 at 3:09 pm #

      Ah, the fates of women living alone. The worst thing about my mother selling that place was that the housing market boom started shortly afterwards, but so it goes.

      The house is basically the same other than the bathrooms and the kitchen having been remodeled, I’d say.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. hartjangling 2015/07/21 at 5:14 pm #

    I had never even thought about searching out old homes online until this post, and now I can’t wait till I can do it (work pc doesn’t load complicated things like google maps).


    • Miep 2015/07/21 at 5:19 pm #

      I use my tablet’s map app, which works fine, though in this case I was stalking the street address in general as well. You can find out stuff about who lives there and has lived there in some cases, and other details, even without paying for a stalking service.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. endlessleeper 2015/07/21 at 9:32 pm #

    what an interestingly timely article. (sorry for vaguecommenting. fuck anonymity, frankly.) what is that rapturously succulent flower at the end?


    • Miep 2015/07/21 at 9:38 pm #

      Thank you. The image at the end is of a Monster plant.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dogtowner 2015/08/01 at 7:59 am #

    I should clarify about the fate of women living alone. Lizzie Ruggles did live out her life in the beautiful house her grandfather and grandmother built, but it was by choice. A friend on Mt Desert Island asked her to come live with her, but I would assume Lizzie chose to stay in her family home at least partially due to fear it would be torn down. It’s an interesting story — Ruth Ruggles, the grandmother, probably had a great deal to do with the design of the house, which is amazing; Lizzie lived out her life there; and May Chandler, a cousin and the first woman pharmacist in the state of Maine, was responsible for saving the house. And what a house it is! Fantastically light and airy, and the most beautiful hallway I have ever seen.


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