Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You can't go home again

In the movie version of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy's real but bleak Kansas home is depicted in black and white; once in the Wonderful Land of Oz, suddenly the world is in bright colors. This visit and revisit to the house of my Grandparents Gardner on Baseline Road in Phoenix south is quite the opposite, as you shall see.

The story began during one of my Aussie bro's periodic visits, this time in the mid-90s while my mother still lived in Sun City. After all those years Down Under where traffic follows English rules, the bro avoids driving in the States. However, he had practiced a bit among the golf carts and such in Sun City. In case you didn't know it, I have a streak of Loki (as in mischief) in me; I goaded my sib into driving south on 97th Avenue which was a quiet rural section road all the way down to Baseline. Once on Baseline, we both figured we might as well try to find the old family home, if it still existed. We headed east, past Central and soon, there it was, behind a stand selling tropical trees. The stand's operators gave us permission to photograph the house. BTW, one of the original date palms towers at the left, complete with a crop of fruit.

Here is the old house as we found it, surrounded on all sides by the glare of the desert, with but a handful of straggly trees.

In contrast, this is the house as I remember it from my childhood. Those huge plants in front are red-flowered cannas, arranged in a great circle around a lowered, grassy expanse. My grandmother G. is behind the plants, to the left. The acreage, most of it in citrus, enjoyed a good water allotment from the Salt River Project and on irrigation day, we grandchildren could play in the water in that circle.

More of Grandma G.'s garden at the front of the house -- rose bushes and honeysuckle vines. These pictures are from about 1932.

Harvesting a huge fig tree, which was to the east of the house. As I recall the tree from a couple of years later, there was a great hollow in the center, which made a grand playhouse or cave.

My grandfather in front of one of his several date palms. In the background, citrus trees.

This is the rear of the old house that bro and I saw that day in the 90s. As bleak as Dorothy's Kansas.

In my grandparents' day, it was shady behind the homestead, with a pleasant lawn and furniture for relaxing. The big branch you see was an ironwood -- a Sonoran desert tree. In Phoenix summers, we spent much time out of doors, especially in the evenings. In fact, in the hottest weather we moved our bedding out under the stars (and mosquito netting), hoping that the summer rains would not drive us back inside. I became fascinated by astronomy as a child because the seeing was so spectacular.

I wonder when the owners or tenants of the house gave up their water allocation. What a difference it made. That stump right by the house is the sad remains of the ironwood. There was no sign of the grape arbor, which I liked to climb. The folks sold the property long before I returned to Phoenix for college in 1944 and we heard gossip that it was occupied by a hippy tribe during the 60s.

My grandfather relaxes in one of several standard folding sling chairs -- a predecessor to today's standard white plastic model. Below are more of his date palms that grew at the rear of the house, including a good view of the citrus acreage.

At some point, the interior of the old house had been painted a shiny, icky tobacco brown. Heaven only knows why; almost no other color you could pick would emphasize the heat as thoroughly as brown. Long ago, the dining table was at this end of the long living room; here we ate big family dinners complete with aunts and uncles and played cards of an evening. (Though Methodists, the grandparents allowed cards.) I was amazed at how low the brown ceiling. The door at the left rear is the bathroom -- cold in winter, requiring one of those funny old round electric heaters with the element in the center.

In days past, this cement square surrounded a 3-4 foot deep structure where well water was always present, along with a bullfrog or two; ground water was not used for drinking. Below are remains of old outbuildings, of which there were several, in much better shape! Missing: the well house, built in Dutch style with a windmill on top.

What a different world that was! Try to imagine, if you are able, the ladies "putting up" peaches and plums. In August, over a hot stove in the hot kitchen. Try to imagine how comfy it was the day Grandpa G. put together his first swamp cooler made from a fan in a wooden box, with a hose trickling water through a batt of excelsior. And think about licking fresh strawberry ice cream from the churn on a hot Sunday. It was a good life if you were a kid and not worried about the Depression, as all the grown-ups were. And what's there today? I suspect houses, lots of houses, many in foreclosure.


Catalyst said...

What a wonderful remembrance!

Granny J said...

Thank you, Cat-A -- I relived a small piece of my childhood as I put it together. A somewhat painful process!

Avus said...

That is one great post, Granny. I enjoyed every bit of it.
I find it fascinating to "go back", but one has to take it carefully. The past is a different country and nostalgia is usually rose tinted. But I have always found it rewarding to "dig amongst the ruins".

Anonymous said...

I sure like this post Granny J. I grew up in the 60's not far away on 67th & Bethany Home in Glendale. We would go to the river bottom down by Baseline to hunt dove. I liked how there were irrigation flumes to swim in then.

Anonymous said...

About your best posting, of course I'm a bit prejudiced having "walked on the ceiling"--Unk Max holding me by the ankles and walking me along. Don't forget the gopher traps that Grampa installed in an attempt to assure the integrity of the berms on order to hold in irrigation water.

Speaking of drinking water, remember the milk can and ladle at the kitchen door and Grampa scratching his back on the door facing after a few hours on the tractor.

Them wuz the days.


mark said...

I grew up on the edge of phoenix... 52nd street out by Papago peaks (maytag zoo now I think)
We lived in a trailer and I thought is was a mansion as a kid. I don't remember the heat keeping me indoors very often. Of course the park pool was nice and handy when needed. I would hop bare foot on hot asphalt from shady spot to shady spot to get there.
nice post.
and BTW...
Your blog "is like a box of chocolates... you never know what you're going to get" (forest gump)

JuliaR said...

Fascinating contrasts.

Anonymous said...

Super post. Reminds me of visiting my Grandparents when I was a lad. That house is long gone, but I have a few pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Granny J said...

avus -- the past is certainly a different country. And how! Change just proceeds gently on its merry way, until you suddenly go way back in time.

style -- not far away? In the days I'm recalling, that would have been way north and west of the city limits, tho I believe that the grandparents G. started out with a far out in that direction.

bro -- I note you didn't mention surfboarding on the Western Canal on the same uncle's shoulders.

mark -- I surely do remember hopping from one shady spot to another, barefoot! But it wasn't anything as civilized as asphalt -- just hot Arizona dirt and dust. Also had to look out for the bullheads.

julia -- arent' the contrasts stark?

steve -- unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of my Grandparents M. house over in California. A four-square two-story adobe, stuccoed, of course.

Other Niece said...

What a great backwards journey through family history. Backwards as in back in time, and backwards as in more civilized then, than now. Sometimes time brings progress, and others...not so much. I had only ever seen one photo of Rose, and had never seen Edgar - that was Grandpa G's name, wasn't it?
Thank you for the gift.

Granny J said...

TONFM -- Actually, the Phoenix Grandfather G. is named Newm (Newman); Edgar is the California grandfather. I'm surprised that you haven't seen more pictures of the Phx Grandparent; next time you visit, I have quite a few, including Grandfather G. as a quite handsome young man.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, GJ, as I read the post, I was almost "afeared" that you were going to include photos from 2007 or 2008.

Best to leave the memories and mid-90s photos out there.

I still cannot go visit my grandparents' old dairy ranch a little more than 2 hours north of me. It's completely subdivided.

Thank you for sharing your memories with us!

~Anon in AV.

Granny J said...

anon av -- I couldn't find the right spot again unless the house is still standing! Neither my bro nor I had any idea of the address, but we were sure when we saw the building!

Anonymous said...

Granny J, do you remember the "bubbles", the canal on 99th ave? We would float under the low bridge crossing, holding our breath just inches away from the bridge bottom.

Granny J said...

style -- No, I was long gone from Phoenix during my teens, when such an exploit would have been likely. By the time I returned for junior college, there was a nearby swimming pool & I had other interests, though I certainly recall night parties out at the old burned out Frank Lloyd Wright house north of town.

meggie said...

Your posts are always so interesting. How sad to see the barren place, where it once stood in splenour!

Lane said...

Oh, that was splendid! I had not seen those photos before. FNFM

Granny J said...

FNFM -- like so many of the pictures, they have remained stashed! Besides, I had the modern pix; I believe that when you and Mom IDed so many pictures, it was at her house before I inherited the picture vault.

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