When our good friends Leon West (Evans) and his wife, Nan, visit us here in Delaware about once a year, Leon and I usually take a sentimental drive to Lansdowne. We drive by Pepper’s Drug Store on Plumstead Avenue where we both worked. We stop in because the current owner was one of the junior pharmacists then.
We then drive past our old homes and those of classmates we remembered—Jerry Jerome’s, Arnett Ware’s, Blanche Kurtz’s, Jean Brown’s, Ted Carl’s, Dave Hall’s, Art Mitchell’s, Nancy Musser’s.
I am surprised how different our homes were. Leon’s father was the superintendent of the Stratford Court Apartments, so his home was a ground-floor apartment. I believe Jimmy Valentine lived above a store on Wycombe Avenue. Marel Harlow’s father worked for GE and supposedly had one of the first experimental heat pumps, his entire back yard containing buried heat-exchange pipes. Blanche Kurtz and Arnett Ware lived in small duplexes on Greenwood Avenue. Jerry Jerome’s house sat high and imposing, large even by today’s standards. Jean Brown’s was an inviting, cozy home right across the street. Art Mitchell’s house on Balfour Circle had understated class, and still looks good. Ruth Cleland’s father was my pediatrician and her older sister a friend of my sister. The Clelands lived on Lansdowne Avenue, just behind the high school, and his office was part of the home.
Yet despite this wide range of housing, I never noticed any difference in status. Not once, not ever. Not by me, nor anyone else. We judged the houses by other standards.
Arnett’s house was magic just because she lived there.
I probably liked Leon’s the best because living in a large apartment building was more exciting than in my house. And, it was right on Lansdowne Avenue. He even had a cigarette machine outside his front door. How cool was that?
Jerry’s house was our favorite place to hang out because it was always open to us and full of activity. Many years later, before Mrs. Jerome died, she still welcomed Leon and I like visiting celebrities.
Dave Hall’s house kept his British heritage with pictures of the Queen and Winston Churchill over the sofa. Robin Atkiss’s bedroom had a low hole cut in the wall covered with a cloth where he could crawl to another room. I once sat in Janice Mowry’s living room after our one date, sweating and squirming, not knowing what to do next. Art Mitchell’s house had a great pool table in the basement, even if you did need a special short cue at one corner. Bill Hayes’s, on Congress Avenue near the high school, had a basketball net over the garage, a pleasant mother and friendly older brother.
Now, I’m not saying this was exactly how it was—just how I remember it.
Today, when I watch programs like “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “The Real Wives of Orange County” I wonder if beneath the glitz do kids still visit each other’s houses? Yes, but I bet not with the freedom we once had. Judging by my granddaughters’ lives, who are still years away from high school, kids visit friends houses only by invitation and only if their mom drives them. Their visits are arranged between the mothers on a reciprocal basis—you had them last week, I’ll have them this week. Their friend’s houses are all upscale and only minor variations of their own. Anyplace in walking distance—no one walks, anyway— is within their own development where the houses are all built to the same economic standards.
We walked everywhere, passed each other’s very different houses on the way to school, stopped in one friends house on our way to another’s. It was largely our choice of where to go and who to visit, and we took advantage of it.
P.S. If any of you far-flung expatriates would like to see what your old house looks like now, send me the address and I’ll photograph it at the next visit. I can easily email it to you.