Lately scenes from the past have come to mind — triggered by the fun of entering my childhood address in Portland, Oregon, on my computer. I had heard this was possible, but was startled when our old house appeared in vivid color on my screen.
Built in 1911, the house is distinctive not in architecture but in having four floors — a full basement below and a large attic above. Extra places to play when rainy Oregon days set in.
Our family lived there in the 1930s, having moved to Portland from a smaller city, Salem, the state capital. Our neighborhood was a variety of mostly two-story houses with front and back yards, made of wood, or stucco, or occasionally brick. Despite the size of our house, it had only four bedrooms, plenty for our family of five, which included my grandmother. Like many longtime widows of the time, my grandmother had no means of her own and lived with us.
One thing we loved about having my grandmother with us was her Cornish pasties. These were delicious concoctions of homemade dough, in which a combination of meat and vegetables roasted and made their own gravy. The great aroma was tipoff and the message “Gram is making pasties!” meant dinnertime bliss. She made the pasties in sizes befitting each family member — large for the adults and smaller for my brother and me. Decades later I found a recipe for pasties and tried it, but mine were a bust compared to Gram’s — no gravy.
Subsequent owners of my childhood house added many updates, including treatments on all the front windows. I remember a sunroom with large windows where I practiced my piano lessons. Since the property was for sale recently, there were online views of most rooms and hallways, which included a number of pastel stained glass windows. The large basement now has a one-bedroom apartment and bath, and the same in the attic. Despite the updating and staging, I could make out our rooms from the 1930s.
Just a few houses away was a well-known landmark — a large traffic circle planted with grass, trees and shrubs and featuring a beautiful statue of Joan of Arc on horseback. If ever a metal animal pranced under a flag fluttering on high it was this one, which is still there. A copy from the molds of the original in Paris sculpted by E. Fremiels, the statue was recently restored to the shining gilt that I remember. When I lived nearby all I had to say was that I lived “near the circle” and someone would respond, “Oh, by the Joan of Arc statue.” I think this was the start of an abiding love of horses.
The circle had another attraction — the Montavilla streetcar line, which bisected the circle, ran right in front of our house, and took us quickly to downtown Portland. You might think it would be noisy or undesirable, but I remember the sound as a pleasant hum. Instead of rows of seats, it had one long wicker-like seat facing inward down each side of the car. I don’t remember a schedule; we would just wait for the next one.
One other memorable attraction was the nearby Laurelhurst Theatre, where I was introduced to movies. The theater is still there, refurbished and showing classic movies. Patrons can order food and wine and eat from tabletops. Today, many, if not most, U.S. cities have senior centers with classes and social activities, but at that time there was little for seniors to do and not much chance to get together with peers. My grandmother’s weekly entertainment highlight was to go to the movie, whatever was showing, on Sunday afternoons. My mother let me go, too, but only if I had gone to Sunday school that morning.
One of my parents would drop us off at the theater. Back then there was no set time for showings. You just arrived in the middle of the feature. “This is where we came in,” whispered by one or the other of us, was our signal to leave. It was much later that showtimes were announced in advance. Something else missing then was the serving of food at the movies. By the time my parents picked us up, however, it was usually time for Sunday dinner at home, so we did not miss snacking during the show.
Now I remember those times with Gram as I tune in to the Turner Classic Movie channel. How she would have loved the idea of around-the-clock movie choices!