There’s a white house with black trim that sits at the end of Fairfax Avenue, a dead end street within walking distance of my old middle school. There’s a small one-bedroom apartment attached to it, and the garage sits under that, visible only from the side of the house.
This is my Aunt Lu and Uncle Doug’s house, where my cousins Shanda and Erin grew up. I slept over there many times, tucked in a sleeping bag on the floor between their two twin beds. I loved the idea of sharing a room with a sister.
Their bedroom upstairs was long and skinny, running the length of the house, front to back. It used to be a screened in porch before they finished it off. Two closets were built at one end of the room, with a window in between them, looking out onto the front yard.
This is how I remember it.
You had to walk through a small room to get to their bedroom, and that itself was a small bedroom once upon a time. The walls were some sort of yellow, with a mustard/gold colored rug. It was set up with a small couch and an old black and white TV, and the most coveted toy in the house (from mine and my brother’s viewpoint anyway)– an Atari game system. Space Invaders, Pong, Asteroids, Frogger, Pac-Man — we played them all and mastered none. I can still remember my heart racing as those damn pixelated space invaders came marching down the screen faster and faster and I never could get the joystick to move the cannon fast enough or accurately enough and they would get closer and closer and I couldn’t hit any of them and then I was dead after about 45 seconds. I don’t think I ever got to a second round of that stupid game. (Another shining example of how well I get on with technology, in case anyone is reading my other posts and looking for connections…)
We never ran out of things to do when we were together. We had Cabbage Patch Kids and a million stuffed animals, we played “capture the flag” and had fashion shows with beach towels. But one of our favorite things to do was play with our tape recorders. I had an old reel-to-reel recorder that another uncle had given me, but we preferred the more modern one where you could just pop the cassette in and snap the cover closed.
Tucked away in their bedroom, we would pretend to be Casey Kasem from America’s Top 40 or Marilyn McCoo from the show “Solid Gold” and record our own countdown of popular songs. It was a pretty involved process, flipping the dial through the radio stations, listening for a good song, cuing up the recorder just right. And then we’d have to hurry up and record our intro before the song was over. When we finally had a stereo deck with a tape player in it, we didn’t have to worry about picking up any background noise. We did however, need to have an incredible sense of timing and a fair amount of luck, not to record the DJ talking over the song, or catch a commercial, or the beginning of another, less desirable song. I’m sure a fair amount of you remember making mix tapes…
We would conduct “interviews” with the tape recorders as well. One of us might pretend to be a celebrity, while the other asked questions. Or, we’d simply use song lyrics from our albums to “answer” the question. For example:
Interviewer: “We have Cyndi Lauper with us today. Cyndi, tell us about a time when you got in trouble as a teenager…”
(Cue lyrics, play song) “I come home… in the morning light, my father says, ‘When you gonna live your life right…’ ”
We also made commercials. I remember one time we were trying to record a particular commercial for Breyer’s ice cream. Something set us off (it usually didn’t take much) and we couldn’t get through our “script” without laughing. We tried it over and over, and each time we played it back, we’d collapse in a fit of pee-your-pants giggling, gasping for air, because something else had gone wrong: we snort-laughed in the middle of a sentence, or we forgot what we were going to say, and there was a big awkward pause.
The laughter was intrinsic, a part of us. It was pure and uninhibited, innocent and joyful. It came from a place of comfort and familiarity and it could go on and on. I don’t think I ever laughed so hard as when I spent time with my cousins.
Their house felt like home to me. I remember walking through the small entry way from the front door, on the right was the apartment, the door straight ahead went down to the basement (we never spent much time down there, it was filled with my uncle’s “collection”), and to the left was the main house. The small bathroom immediately off the hallway had soft peach carpeting, and the galley kitchen was yellows and greens, but the fridge was classic 1970’s brown.
We shared many weekend dinners, picnics, and Christmases together. I loved sitting in their living room, the plush blue carpet, the multi-blue stripes of the sofa and loveseat. Blue was always my favorite color. And the dark wood of the closet doors and trim around the picture window was the same in my own house.
It was in this room on September 27, 1985, that we watched Hurricane Gloria come down on the neighborhood, the town, the state, with a fierceness not matched in our short lifetimes. My cousins remember thinking that every time a tree fell, it was going to mean the end of their pool. We wondered what would happen when a tree fell on a pool. We’d never seen that before. We were forbidden to go upstairs, and within a short time, another tree came down, scraping the corner of the house, taking the gutter and the power lines with it. It narrowly missed the windows of my cousins’ room. It’s a funny thing though, I don’t remember feeling all that scared. I felt comfortable and safe, if only mildly put out that we couldn’t play with the tape recorder because there was no electricity, and we couldn’t use the batteries.
When the hurricane blew itself out, my cousins and I ran outside to survey the yard. There were dozens of trees down everywhere, but ironically the pool had survived, and there was no damage to their cars. I turned to the sky, letting the sun warm my face, amazed by how quickly the clouds were whipping by overhead. The sky looked bluer that day. I had the distinct feeling that everything was going to be okay. And it was.