“Time it was
And what a time it was
It was …
A time of innocence
A time of confidences.”
“Bookends” – Simon and Garfunkel
I admit it. Barely a day goes by without my tuning in to HGTV’s House Hunters, a voyeuristic show that invites viewers to trail after buyers through three potential properties. I love snooping through homes and mocking the buyers’ conversations. The house hunters who drive me nuts are the young couples whose must-haves lists know no bounds. Double sinks in the master bath, granite countertops, hardwood floors, and four bedrooms are essentials. No crown molding? No man cave? No his-and-her walk-in closets? As if! One millennial woman once wailed, “I could not live with those brass light fixtures?” Really?
I got to thinking about our first apartment this week when we reconnected with our first next door neighbors, Jim and Willy. We hadn’t seen them for decades, but we’ve kept in touch through newsy Christmas cards and photos, so we started in right where we’d left off, catching up and reminiscing. Willy told us that she’d heard that our first home, Lamoine Village, had been demolished, so I googled it when we got home. Yep, the old place had been emptied out, and, although I couldn’t find out if it had been torn down, that was the plan in 2011. Imagine, tearing it down! Was it really that old? In 1970, Lamoine Village was the brand new married student housing complex at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Two weeks after our wedding, we moved in to our apartment. Everything was clean and shiny; our dream-come-true.
Our door opened into a living room with an alcove which was just big enough for the little table and four chairs we’d bought at an auction for thirty-five dollars – a steal! We walked through the galley kitchen – fridge, sink, and stove– to get to the bedroom and the bathroom. No microwave, of course. No one had even heard of them yet.
Gray asbestos tile covered the floor, so we bought a gold shag rug to make it cozier. Our couch, hidden under a hound’s-tooth check throw, came from a second hand store. Two faded orange swivel chairs, cast-offs from a friend’s mother, added to our seating. Mike crafted our entertainment center – cinder blocks spray-painted blue, with wood planks to hold our black-and-white TV, a couple of objets d’art – maybe a beer stein and a Blue Nun bottle. Two unframed sketches of our honeymoon spot, St. Louis, Missouri, added a dash of artistic flair to the wall over the couch. In the bedroom, our clothes were tucked into two old chests painted bright blue.
Soundproof? No. We learned never to say anything in the bathroom that shared a vent with our neighbors. On one side, the frisky couple liked to play naked hide and seek with the lights off, and we heard their squealing laughter through the vent. On the other side, the nightly bickering of the newlyweds next door came through the thin bedroom wall loud and clear, and we were privy to TMI.
I learned to cook in the narrow kitchen, propping up my red-and-white-checked cookbook on the Formica. I concocted tuna noodle casseroles, sloppy joes, and Appian Way pizza mixes on a cafeteria tray-sized counter. One night, we splurged on a steak, and I put it in the broiler while Mike was in the bathroom shaving after his shower. Suddenly flames burst from the broiler. I shrieked for help. Wearing only shaving cream, Mike came to the rescue.
“Close the oven door!”
Flames shot out of the burners.
“Open the door! Throw water on it!” I flapped a wet dish towel at the flames, but the fire persisted. Mike yanked the fire extinguisher from the wall and sprayed, covering everything with white foam. No steak dinner that night, but at least Mike didn’t have to escape out the back window with only his Mennen to keep him covered.
We shared laundry facilities with everyone in the building, which had no common interior hallway, just a cement walk lined by a metal fence. I bundled up to brave the elements and dragged the laundry bag, detergent, and quarters down the walk and a flight of stairs, hoping against hope that I’d find an idle washer.
We Lamoine Villagers never went out to dinner, not on our budgets. Once in a while Jim and Willy had us over for Spamboats, a tasty concoction of Span, Velveeta, and Miracle Whip spread open-faced on buns and toasted. On weekends we invited friends over for mai-tais and chip dip made from Lipton’s onion soup mix and played raucous games of Charade into the wee hours. If it was warm enough, we dragged chairs out to the walkway in front of our doors, had a couple beers, and enjoyed our view of the Lamoine River.
We moved on after two years, as did most of our friends. Life has been good to us, and sometimes I look around and marvel at our granite countertops and his-and-her sinks. I feel a bit of pity for those House Hunters whippersnappers who demand amenities out the wazoo. Since they’ve never set up plastic snack trays to serve their company, that ginormous quartz peninsula with wine fridge must seem ho-hum.