Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twelve)

The biggest change of my childhood occurred in early 1962, when my parents quit being renters and became home owners. In January of '62, they paid $10,500.00 (or more specifically, they financed that then-enormous sum) for a newly-constructed home at 3 Marchmont Drive in Rome... a home that was built to their specifications. I can remember the frequent trips beginning in November of '61 as construction began; we repeatedly stopped by the site to watch our house going up, and at the time it seemed like we were building a mansion.

Houses have gotten much larger over the subsequent decades, so the idea of a 1000 square foot home for four people seems almost claustrophobic today. But I thought we had to be rich; we were moving from an approximately-800-square foot house that we were renting (two bedrooms, a living room, one bath, a small kitchen) to a spacious 1000-square-foot home that would be ours (I didn't really understand that whole mortgage thing back then). The Marchmont house had three bedrooms (one for Mom and Dad, one for me, and one for Kim), one and a half bathrooms (a half-bath off Mom and Dad's room, and a hallway bath for everyone), a living room, a phenomenally long hallway (okay, it's only about twelve feet... but that seemed long enough for a foot-race back then!), and a kitchen large enough for a table and four chairs. We also had a carport, a concrete driveway, and 1960s-state-of-the-art aluminum siding (yellow). I began to think of myself as being in the same league as Richie Rich!...

So, in February of 1962, we moved from Garden Lakes to Marchmont Drive in the city of Rome. We were no longer county residents; we now lived in the city limits.... just barely.

And that brought some changes. For one thing, I would have to change schools. The county administration gave my parents permission to continue taking me to Garden Lakes Elementary to finish my third grade year with my favorite teacher, Mrs. Solomon--but it was no longer the same. I couldn't walk to school; it was no longer in my neighborhood, but was a ten minute drive away. I felt like an outsider for those last four months, and I didn't have the slightest idea what my new school would be.

I was lucky enough to still have a close friendship with David Lynch. David and I would see each other at school, and we would alternate spending Friday or Saturday night at one another's house. I would begin planning for my trips to his house two days ahead of time, perusing my comics and sorting out the ones we would most likely want to re-read and talk about; if David were coming to spend the night with me, he would do the same thing. Our luggage of choice, of course, was a brown paper grocery bag--large enough that a comic could pretty much lie flat in the bottom, and other comics would be stacked atop that, with my pajamas, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and any other personal necessities packed on top of that. (The photo at the top of this post is a 1963 shot of me and David clowning it up in the back yard of our Marchmont Drive house... I'm on the left, David is on the right.)

David's response to our new house played into my childhood beliefs that I lived in wealth. First of all, David kept talking about how lucky we were to own a house; his parents still rented their home in Garden Lakes. And our house had all sorts of amenities--we had aluminum windows that opened smoothly and didn't stick when the wood swelled like the windows of the older homes in Garden Lakes, for instance. We had shiny varnished wooden floors that had no signs of wear or previous occupants; we had folding closet doors; we had built-in appliances in our kitchen; we even had an air conditioner built into the wall of our living room, jutting out into the carport. (It was the equivalent of a window or a room AC, not central air, but it still made me feel opulent... we actually had AC in one room!) We even had a tall antenna mounted at one end of the house, and it had a motorized rotor on it so that we could watch Atlanta television stations or Chattanooga televisions stations with the turn of a dial and the careful adjusting of television fine tuning!

Best of all, the new home brought two major changes for me: first, I got my very own room and no longer had to put up with Kimberly and her crib in our shared room (a very big plus for an eight-year-old boy), and second, I got my very own closet--more than five feet wide and two feet deep with double folding doors, it had enough room for all the comics I could possibly own (oh, how little I knew back then).

David wanted to spend the night at my house every weekend, but his parents insisted that from time to time we stay over there (and I suspect my parents were glad of that, too). But the Marchmont house was the envy of my friends, and I felt privileged. I wouldn't know until years later how little money we actually had. Dad was paid relatively will for his job as sports editor at the Rome News Tribune, but a $10,000 home came with an $82 a month mortgage payment. Add to that $58 a month for a car, and Mom suddenly spent many an evening poring over the family checkbook to keep our budget balanced.

Mom kept all the check records, the bills, and the receipts in a shoebox in the cabinet over the kitchen stove; I remember seeing her and Dad getting that shoebox out, taking it to the kitchen table, and spending an hour or so going over financial figures. I was always told to go watch television; my parents came from a time when family budgets were grown-up matters, and kids were not to worry about money. Their efforts kept me thinking that we were rich; I never once remember wanting for anything, and I thought those once-a-week dinners of pork and beans and hot dogs or sausage patties were special occasions and not budget-stretchers.

Once we were settled into the new house, I had to find out where the nearest comic book suppliers were. It turned out that there were three stores within approved walking distance: Couch's Grocery, just under a half-mile away; Candler's Drugs, immediately next door to Couch's; and Hill's Grocery, a much more ramshackle store located across Shorter Avenue from Couch's. Since there was no red light anywhere near these stores and Shorter Avenue was a busy four-lane thoroughfare, Mom told me I was not to walk to Hill's... but what Mom didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right?

So here we were: our own house, and three sources for comics within walking distance. Yep, this upscale home-ownership thing had all sorts of benefits!...

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