My house was a 1923 Rambler, hand built by my landlord, Elmer Lambert. Mr. Lambert was married to Ima. They were older people when I met them. The Lamberts were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mr. Lambert gave me my first nickname, Sputnik, because I orbited him, chattering away about some thing, as he worked about the house. Mrs. Lambert always had a nice piece of fruit for me.
Mr. Lambert had a shop, a workshop, in the back yard. There was a great, thick hardwood worktable, cabinets overhead to the left. A great open space where I suppose he kept some of his tools and machines. It was a good workspace; I could spin in there. I got used to having a high table at which to work because of playing in the workshop after my Mom rented the house from the Lamberts when I was six months old. I found all sorts in the workshop: metals, electrical connections, little lamps that had the word ampere on them. I loved that workshop.
There was room enough in my backyard to have a small garden of collards, chilis, potatoes. I had room for my potter’s wheel, which I retained after I was forced to move into this abandoned structure. We had flower gardens, a loquat tree, a fig tree, and many succulents.
The house was a shotgun house, but classy. Mr. Lambert had built-in shelves in the kitchen, maximizing the interior space of the kitchen. There was one walkway through the house. If the door way was not set opposite to the hallway, you could have shot straight through the house. All doors opened to the left, except for the doorway, which opened right.
The doors opened according to the wall they were on. The bathroom door varied in that it was on the west side of the house, but the door opened to the south. The front entry was on the west and opened to the west. The bedroom door was on the east and opened to the east. The east wall in the kitchen is where the built-ins were installed. From outside the house, the shelves were enclosed in their own cabinetry. They were floor to ceiling, two shelves, three spaces, about 4.5-5 feet wide. There were upper and lower double doors for each cupboard section. We could fit all the china and glassware in those cabinets. The tea and coffee cups had hangers. The lower cupboard was to store cookware, like the electric skillet in which my Mom made fried rice. (Don’t tell Uncle Roger!)
The house was configured square and the house, while only a one-bedroom, was roomy and cozy simultaneously. There was a linen closet behind the bedroom door. In the far corner of the bedroom was Mom’s sewing area. She started with a Singer and ended with a Consew. Mom was an engineer and she had erected shelving around her sewing area, three shelves, four spaces. They were glass shelves, made of the louvre windows she recycled using reinforced nylon tape. On those shelves were the tools of the sample maker’s trade. And the buttons! Oh, I do glory in the buttons Mom left me! I grew up to the singing of her many sewing machines. I almost donated the Consew when I realized I couldn’t set my home up the way it had been before. But Bubbs told me to keep it because he knew how much I associated his grandmother with that machine. I’m glad he did.
I miss my house. I had a back door that I could go out any time I needed fresh air and to be free of observance from the street. Our back yard was always fenced after Mom woke up one morning to find that the nextdoor neighbor’s company was parked in our driveway, inebriated. Ever after that, Mr. Lambert erected an opaque fence of stout wood.
The front yard was lawn, and hedges, and a beautiful Bird of Paradise, that survived the decimation of all our foliage and flora for the hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. The bougainvillea and some of the succulents survived, as well.
One time, there were three people in the kitchen, me, my mom, and The Lord. One of the neighbor’s relatives had an episode and she came to Mom for a cup of coffee and some sweetbread. She didn’t say that was what she wanted. She just knocked at the door and when asked, “Who is it?,” she answered, “The Lord.”
I went and told Mom who was at the door, and she put on her robe and came to see. Opening the door, she invited The Lord to come in and have some coffee. While The Lord supped, Mom called Pluko’s relative, and she came over to get her. The relative had to wait, of course, until The Lord finished her coffee and cake.
My kitchen was the hub of activity. My mom cooked dinners for club meetings of the Progressive Twelve. They were a charity and philanthropic club that met in one member’s home once a month to discuss their work and to eat. I learned about Robert’s Rules of Order, parliamentary procedure, ambrosia, sweet potato pie, and succulent meats of all sorts. I learned about peau d’soir pumps, and Este’e Lauder Youth Dew. Those women were some of the best dressed, best scented women I’ve ever known. They were also the best cooks and hostesses. They were all southern or southwestern women who had a great sense of hospitality. They were all Black women, proud, neat, and humble. They always demonstrated what it meant to be the best.
My house was filled with memories such as these. I miss my house that Mr. Lambert built. I still have a drawer from the workshop table and I have the closet he built for the bedroom. Lucky I did because the contractor who destroyed my home did not bother to put a closet in the room that was supposed to be my bedroom, neither did he finish the floor.
This entire structure is made of the leftovers of other projects. Where I had hardwood flooring throughout the house, there is now laminate, upon which I have slipped and fallen twice. Where I had copper plumbing, there is now plastic. Where I had recessed lighting, there is now a single light within a cheap fan that sits, off-center, in the living room. There are fire sprinklers because they are a requirement in newly built homes. My insurance company did not report to Underwriting that my home was rebuilt. The contractor has never produced the plans needed to rebuild a house. I don’t know how this structure passed final inspection, except Public Works reinspected after I complained for about two years, then they rescinded the Certificate of Occupancy.
So, now I am forced to live in an unventilated, unfinished structure, that lacks proper structure and finishing in the bathroom, what used to be my other favorite room in the house. Two people could fit in there comfortably. There was a bath and a shower. The sink was deep for washing dainties and newly knitted or crocheted garments. It was a room of great intimacy and privacy, where one could bask in steamy comfort, or have a chat while sitting on the pot! My bathroom that Mr. Lambert built was great. I’m afraid to go into the wash closet I now have, fearing the flooring will drop out from under me.