Do you ever think about the house you grew up in? Maybe some of you go back, to visit your parents who still live there. This is the house I grew up in, in a fairly suburban-like neighborhood in Queens, from the time my parents bought the house in 1979 when I was 9 years old (for $85,000, I still remember!) till I moved away to Manhattan for art school in late 1988. My parents moved out of this house around 1995.
We recently had dinner near the old neighborhood a few weeks ago so on a whim I decided to take a little detour and drive by the house, partly to show the girls where I had lived and partly because I hadn’t seen the house in about 14 or so years. We are rarely ever in the neighborhood. The house looks like this today:
I was surprised to see that aside from the skylights, the house from the outside hasn’t really changed at all. The scripty house numbers are still attached to the siding in front of the house too, which I found rather amusing.
Truth is, I have mixed emotions when I think about this house. I remember good times for sure, but there are enough bad memories associated with the years that our family lived there that it’s hard to look at it with anything but conflicting feelings. The house scared me too. I was completely freaked out, for example, by the textured geometric metallic wallpaper that lined the hallway to the bedrooms (this was the 80s after all). When the light hit the wall at certain angles, a big, evil jack-o-lantern grin stared back at me if I looked over at the wall from the living room. I tried to avoid walking past that part of the hallway at all times, choosing to go through the kitchen instead to get to my bedroom. The basement and attic scared me too, and at times I thought there were spirits lurking in some of those rooms. Ok, so most of this was deeply influenced by the Amityville Horror, a movie that terrified me and still does to this day (really, I feel scarred for life from watching that film as a kid, particularly since I have seen the actual house in person), but at times the house really did put me at unease.
Aside from having an active teenage imagination, I think that all 4 of us were ready to be done with the house by the time my parents sold it in the late 90s. It was a relief to be rid of it, really, and I have to say that I am very happy not to have to go back as an adult and revisit some of those bad memories. It’s strange enough to be back living in your hometown, the city that you grew up in. You walk amongst ghosts and reminders of your past all the time, but I’m grateful that when we go visit my parents in the suburbs for the weekend, it’s not the house that I grew up in. Different house. Different neighborhood. No history. A blank slate.
Still, this house has a place in our past and I’d like to think of all the fond memories instead. Stuff like days spent rollerskating up and down the driveway and around in the basement with my cousin, blasting Journey, MJ and Diana Ross on the radio while my brother rode his Big Wheel (you can see us holding hands on skates at the end of the driveway in the first photo). Playing kick the can in the street with all the neighborhood kids on the block. The little backyard garden plot where my dad once planted a bunch of Wax Begonias to spell out “love”. Watching MTV for the first time. Painting and sewing through all hours of the night in the basement, putting my portfolio together for art school applications. Raking Fall leaves. The young 6 foot tree in front of our house where I found my brother sitting on a branch one day as I came home from school, only to realize an hour and a half later that he was actually stuck up in the tree but was too embarrassed to tell me when he failed to come inside (that little tree is huge now, by the way). Beyond these little snippets of memories, the house is significant to our family because it housed all of our extended family members at one time or another as they immigrated to NY from Korea. My mom was the first in her family to come and she paved the way for 3 of her siblings, my grandmother and my dad’s sister to come to US. They all lived with us for awhile until they were able to find their footing and get a home of their own.
The girls weren’t really that impressed with the house when we drove by. Maybe they’re too young to fully appreciate it or understand. I remember about 13 years ago knocking on the door of the childhood house where Mark’s mom grew up in Hawaii. We were all there – his mom, Mark, his sister and I, and she really wanted to go back and show us where she grew up as this was the first time we were all in Hawaii together. The people who lived in the house were home and they were nice enough to indulge us and invite us in. It was real cool to experience that with her, to walk through the house 30+ years later and see her revisit some of her earliest childhood memories. I don’t have any desire to go back inside my childhood house again, but I think I’d like to drive by with the girls again when they get older. When we got home that evening from dinner, Mark and I wondered how they would remember this apartment. Maybe they’ll come back to this block 30 years from now, stand in front of the doorway and say, “I lived here way back when…”. Hopefully, their memories will be fond.