819 S Star

Although I’m DYING to write about the fact that I reluctantly agreed to go on a date this week with a guy who told me he he’d been “smitten with me for two hours” by the time he talked to me last night during the Texas-TCU game, “wants to take me out this week,” and everything else a dreamy Marlboro Man should say, I won’t. Because the fact of the matter is that he’s 10 years younger than I am. He’s the polar opposite of the 30-something pansies I’ve been going out with all summer. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that he’s from Texas. And as we all know, men from Texas have egos bigger than the Hancock building. I like it.

(By the way, see Confessions of a Pioneer Woman from last week for a good southern romance story.)

So I’ll move on to the number 819, which happens to be the address of my dating embryo. And it was also my address when I first got out of college.

At graduation, I still didn’t have a job. I had two interviews scheduled for the following week, though — both for 4-H agent positions, in different counties. So I went for one of the interviews on Wednesday evening. On Thursday afternoon, when I was sitting at mom and dad’s in the kitchen eating a bowl of ice cream, the phone rang. They offered me the job. I was speechless. I told the director I had to talk to my mommy about it. And after I got off the phone I started to cry. The whole idea of FINALLY getting a job after months and months of interviewing and not knowing what to do with my life was so OVERWHELMING!

And of course, no one was home. I even called grandma, in a fit of desperation to talk to SOMEONE. As any good grandma should, she told me to “pull it together and call him back immediately to accept…what the hell was I thinking?”

(Who’s the pansy here?)

Eventually mom got home, I calmed down, and accepted the job. I would start in two weeks.

Next step: find a place to live.

The next week mom and I made the hour and a half trek to the town of 12,000 I’d call home for the next two years. We stopped first at the Extension Office to say hi, and Peggy the FACS Agent (new age home economist) already had a place scoped out for me. It was a cute little white house on South Star Street, owned by Earl and Mary V, who owned practically the whole block. We followed Peggy over there, and she made introductions.  It took me a nanosecond to realize it was the best place and best deal in town ($325/mo for a two-bedroom house with at two-car garage).

(Just so you know, Mary V used her middle initial, because there was another woman in town with exactly the same first and last name.)

Mary V used to work at the Extension office, but she and Earl had long since retired. Earl had been in quality control at Boeing, and had a side business of selling glass beads for sandblasting, a technology that he developed. I think they were in their early 80s at the time, and they lived in the “big house on the corner”. Next to them was Carolyn (the 4-H agent who I was replacing — at her wish), then between Carolyn and my little white house lived Barbara, who was Earl and Mary V’s 60-year-old niece.

The house was long and narrow — shotgun style — with a sun porch on the front. The birch front door had two diamond-shaped windows, and it led into a cream-colored living room that had one (ugly) paneled wall at the back and two dark stained built-in corner storage units. The door to the bedroom was in the center of that wall, and finally, there was a tiny second bedroom at the very back. The bathroom, kitchen and utility room ran parallel to the main living areas, front to back. The kitchen was the coolest — I could touch the ceiling flat-footed, and it had a molded tin ceiling, like you see in 1920’s opera houses. They even put in a dishwasher for me. And the utility room had a real washer and dryer! (Can you believe it?)

The driveway went beside the house to the back edge, where there was a freestanding two-car garage featuring a concrete tornado dungeon, complete with a cot and loads of spiders. The garage is where I stored by ’85 gray Honda SE and the electric push lawnmower I had on loan from grandma.

Over the course of my residence, I did quite a few projects. I painted the paneled wall in the sun porch white and stenciled a green ivy border across the top. I made my boyfriend Casey help me patch cracks and paint the living room (given that he did that for a living) — all during the third week of our courtship. (What a trooper.) Larry the horticulture agent rototilled the 10×20 front yard so I could seed it with fescue — since it was basically damp exposed dirt due to the big shade tree. And I planted tulips along the sidewalk.

It was a very merry home.

But the most entertaining of all was Earl, who would come trotting down to my house several times a week, especially if I was in the yard. I think he had a crush on me. He’d tell me about his glass bead business, his days at Boeing, his days as a youth exploring the river and railroad tracks across the highway from my house. One day he even took me on a tour of the woods and river, showing me the different trails and fishing holes.

By the time I moved to Wichita a couple years later, Earl was telling me the same stories a little too often. It was clear his memory was failing. So instead of renting the house to someone else, Mary V. made the decision to downsize — and redo my little house so they could live there themselves. Their carpenter did a fantastic job with new cabinets in the kitchen. And I helped her put up blue curtains in the living room, since she’d liked my sconces so much.

I’d make it over a couple times a year to visit, and by the time I moved to Chicago, Mary V was looking after Earl like he was a child, due to Alzheimers.

Mary V e-mailed me last Thanksgiving to see if my e-mail address was still the same, and to say that she had some news. I suspect she was writing to tell me that Earl died. I e-mailed her back but never heard from her, until last week when I was copied on a mass e-mail of cute photos of kittens. I think I will write her now to find out.


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