Opening the door to my first home sent butterflies scurrying as a rush of emotions raced through me. Knowing that I was really on my own had caused a more than a few sleepless nights, and now that the time had finally arrived, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take this new beginning. Part of me wanted to run back to my little island home in California and live with the grandmother that I adored and missed so desperately.
As Jeff left to grab a box of clothing, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and whispered, “it’s going to be all right.”
As I slowly opened my eyes, I noticed the living room glowed with the soft morning light that flowed through the over-sized windows. My sweet landlady, Mrs. Lenz, had opened the windows and had spruced up the furnished apartment, for my little home smelled of polished wood and Pinesol. As my eyes wandered around the large cozy living room, I took in all the lovely contents of the room. A large green sofa lounged along one wall, and two overstuffed recliners sat on either side of the large window that graced the front windows of the house.
Next to the small furnace that almost resembled a wood burner sat an upholstered rocking chair that quickly became my favorite place to settle with a good book on chilly evenings. Near the hallway sat an antique oak dresser with a lovely beveled mirror. This living area also had an antique light fixture for overhead lighting, but for a softer effect, two antique floor lamps sat on opposites of the room. This room had hardwood floors, but my landlords had placed carpeting in the center of the room. This room was so warm and inviting.
Laughing, Jeff interrupted my thoughts as he scolded, “Are you just going to admire the place, or will you help me unload your things?”
Quickly, the two of us unloaded my few belongings from the back of his 1970 Ranchero. After my high school graduation, I came to Colorado on vacation, and on a whim, I decided to stay. Most of my belongings were safely tucked away at my grandmother’s home in Alameda, and as I looked around my apartment, I wished I had some of my favorite knickknacks so that I could decorate my first home.
Once we dropped my boxes in the right locations, Jeff said his goodbyes and left to go work at his new job since leaving the army. For a time, I had lived with Jeff’s mother, Fran. She was a dear family friend that offered me a place to stay while Jeff was in the army. On his return to civilian life, they both reassured that I was more than welcome to stay, but his mom’s apartment had only two bedrooms, and although he offered to sleep on the hide-a-way in the living room, I knew he needed his privacy too. Fran made me promise that I would often visit and have dinner with them at least once a week. It was a sweet promise that I readily accepted.
The first room I decided to tackle was the oversized galley kitchen that was at the back of the house. Large windows surrounded this room which bathed the room in light. It was the only room in the house that needed help. Someone had painted the room pink, and it was a bright, harsh colored pink. My landlord, Mr. Lenz, had agreed that I could change it as long as I did not choose black. I assured him that I wanted it painted a cheery yellow. A few days before I moved in, Jeff came over and helped me spruce up my kitchen. And I was pleased with the way it looked. It was cozy. It did not take me long to unpack my dishes and kitchen supplies. Soon, with the rest of my belongings put away, I settled in to admire my first apartment, and to marvel at this little godsend.
It was the month of December in 1979, I worked for the Bureau of Land Management in Canon City, Colorado. As part of a team of the Young Adult Conservation Corps (YACC), I helped with many outdoor activities to help preserve our federal lands. At eighteen, I was ready to spread my wings and fly, and I couldn’t wait to have my first home.
The search was an easy one since my price range was limited, for I worked for minimum wage. The first apartment I checked was quite a distance from the business area of the little town of Canon City. Plus, it was quite dark and dreary. The next home was quaint, but it needed painting and new carpet, and it wouldn’t be ready for about a month or two since the latest occupants hadn’t moved out. It was close to the river and walking trails, but I still decided to look because I didn’t want to wait that long.
And then I found it, the perfect little apartment. It was a lovely Victorian home that had been turned into three apartments, and it was furnished with such wonderful antiques. The living room was enormous with large windows, and it opened onto a beautiful front porch where I enjoyed many sunny days while sipping a glass of ice tea.
I had a half bath in a room of its own, and a shower room tucked under the upstairs landing. The only bedroom had a huge window, and an antique bedroom set with a vanity that I admired. To get to the kitchen, I had to walk through my bedroom. It was a good-sized galley with a small corner dining area. The kitchen had a wall of windows that were small individual windows that added a cottage feel to my little home. Even the back door was unique, for I needed a skeleton key to open it!
The place was picture-perfect. It was within walking distance to work which was great since I didn’t own a car. And the rent was only $90.00 a month! All I had to pay was my gas and electric.
The best part about my new place was my kind landlords. They were an adorable older couple that I came to love as family. They spoiled me rotten and looked out for their newest and youngest tenant. I remember one day, Mr. Lentz asked if Ma could come down in the mornings and wash my dishes. I usually just made coffee and sometimes I would have a slice of toast. I would place my dishes in the sink and soak my coffee pot while I was at work. He explained that they had a daughter, but she died when she was young. He told me that I reminded them of their girl, and it would mean a lot to Mrs. Lenz if she could “take care of me.” How could I say no to that sweet request? That winter, when I came home from work, my little apartment was always warm because Mr. Lenz would turn up the heat just before I arrived. Each morning, Mrs. Lenz would wash up my breakfast dishes and make my bed.
One day on a Saturday, Mr. Lenz knocked on my door, and he was kind of grumpy. He wanted to come in and measure the windows in my living room and bedroom because Ma decided that I should have new drapes in my apartment. It was clear he wasn’t keen on spending the money and complained as I held the tape measure. Trying not to smile at my adorable, grouchy landlord/surrogate dad, I told him that I didn’t need new drapes. He replied, “Try telling it to THAT women. She has made up her mind!”
With that outburst, I started giggling, and before long he was laughing too. In a couple of weeks, my new drapes arrived, and they were gorgeous. Ma had the perfect sense of design. And of course, “my dad” lectured me to take care of them too, but I knew that was coming.
Since I was on a tight budget, I often borrowed a friend’s vacuum cleaner, so Ma bought a vacuum to keep in my apartment. That Christmas I went home to see my family in California. Since I was driving with a friend, I pulled my comforter off the bed and took it with me. When I returned, Ma had purchased more blankets, so that I wouldn’t get cold.
Often the three of us would visit. Mr. Lentz once told me that he and Ma had moved to Colorado during Prohibition. He managed the local hotel, the St. Cloud, and during this time he confessed he bootlegged whiskey. My surrogate dad, who was older than my grandmother, was a bit of a bad ass. They came to this country from Canada, and they were of German descent, and they both still had their German accents which I cherished.
When I had my first date under their roof, the next day, Pa told me, “If any of those boys, give you any problems, you tell them your Pa lives right upstairs. And tell them he has a shotgun!” I loved my little family, and I was so sad when I eventually moved. Ma and I did not take it well, but I would visit them when I could.
One night, Pa called me and told me that Ma had passed. I was devastated. He asked for me to help him clean her closet and pack up her belongings. Afterwards, we sat in his little living room not saying a word. By then, I had my daughter Leslie who was just about ten months old. He got up from his chair and handed me a little box and took my daughter and set her on his lap. When I opened the box, it revealed Ma’s wedding band. In a soft voice, Pa whispered, “She wanted you to have it, and I don’t want those daughter-in-laws to wear Ma’s ring! You were always our girl.”
With that I cried, so Pa called to me. I went over and sat near his chair, and as he held my baby in one arm, he hugged me with the other and tried to comfort “his” girl. We both grieved for the loving woman that we both desperately missed.
Just two years later, Pa also went home. Finally, he joined Ma, and I can only imagine their reunion. I pictured the two of them with Ma’s arms wrapped around his waist while he put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her in close. It was a scene I often witnessed when I was living in the little apartment below them. Even all these years later, I have continued to remember my little family that once lived on Macon Avenue, and as I always, I have missed them dearly!