Memory is a strange thing. Recently, my sister and I joined my mother and her sister on a “Family Home Tour” of their old homes in Orange County. For many families, this would involve two or three stops for photos and then adjournment for lunch. Our day was quite different.
Grandfather Brown was a house painter and wallpaper hanger by trade, and found a steady market in exchanging work for housing. For the family of four, this meant frequent moves to a new home, sometimes around the corner or down the block, at other times a bit further away.
Mom made a list of the homes she remembered, numbering them in order from their early years in California until the house that she “was married from.” She was able to name 13 houses.
Her sister, two years older, made a similar list. Auntie named 15 houses.
We knew it would be an interesting day when we started off. It was typical Los Angeles June Gloom, cloudy in the morning with a promise for afternoon sunny skies. As we navigated the freeways from Pasadena to Orange County, Mom casually remarked,
“Well, it sure is a ‘Happy Crappy Day.’ That’s what your Aunt Lucy used to call a day like this, ‘A Happy Crappy Day’ not good for anything except playing cards and drinking.”
I nearly crashed the car. Oh, this was going to be a very interesting day.
The Aunt we would be meeting was the third-grade school teacher Aunt, not to be confused with Aunt Lucy of the “Happy Crappy Day.” Auntie would never be caught playing cards and drinking in the middle of the day; in fact, she might play cards, but iced tea is her drink of choice. She never forgets a birthday or special occasion and she makes me want to be a better Aunt to my nieces and nephews. She is, in one word, “Wonderful.”
We met Auntie and my sister in Santa Ana and spent some minutes working out our route. After determining that we would not be going to their earliest homes in Anaheim, it seemed prudent just to get in the car and hope someone could navigate us to the first address.
After a few rough starts involving wrong turns and misremembered landmarks, my sister quietly deployed her iPhone GPS. The site of the first house is now an apartment building, although modest houses across the street are witness to an earlier neighborhood character.
The fun really started on North Broadway, now a busy commercial avenue. Both Mom and Auntie remembered the house numbers where they lived, and we even had a photograph of one place with the address written in pencil on the back. The problem was that the photo just didn’t look much like the present day structure. We couldn’t figure out how the porch was remodeled to look like it does today.
1424 North Broadway, Santa Ana, CA, ca 1941
1424 North Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 2010
Across the street, however, between the motion of buses and cars we caught a glimpse of the house both sisters remembered fondly. I would remember it too! The grand Victorian is a bit tired, but still the best looking old building on the block.
1315 North Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 2010
From Broadway, we proceeded to Ross, Halesworth, Willard Junior High (now a modern bunker-style school), Santa Ana Bible Church, 17th Street, and then on to the City of Orange where they lived for nearly six years.
As we attempted to pinpoint each address, it became clear that memory is a very funny thing. Mom remembered the houses by events and people – the Anaheim flood, a visit from step-sister Lucy, boys picking her up for a date.
Auntie, on the other hand, recalled each address by what school she attended and what grade she was in at the time. Often, she even knew the name of her teacher.
When the two sisters didn’t agree on an address, or location, the stories became richer and more colorful as one attempted to “out-remember” the other. I circled some blocks so many times, I am sure the man sitting on his porch reading the paper thought we were checking out the neighborhood for a burglary. My sister was a good sport and jumped out of the car to snap photos when a consensus was finally made.
After twelve stops and nearly as many photos, we were all brain-tired and thought we had done a good day’s work. We managed to find most of the places on both lists, and to come up with some questions for Part 2.
Last stop on the Family Home Tour, lunch at PJ’s Abbey in Orange,
California, former First Baptist Church of Orange where
Mom and Auntie attended popular musical programs.
Next, I attempt to reconcile the home lists made my Mom and Auntie with old letters from the Family Archive.
All Photos from the Kinsel Family Papers, privately held by Denise Levenick.