Drove by my old apartment in West Somerville this past week. Sort of by mistake, sort of by accident, somewhat by chance. Whatever it was, it definitely warmed my heart and I was grateful I got to skip down memory lane for a few moments. I felt incredibly nostalgic and even felt a little pang of melancholy in my heart. I’ve driven by the place in the past, although very infrequently, and I usually feel this way, but it was more profound this day. I sort of wished for those days again.
The two-family house was a block from Tufts University. My roommate and I lived on the 2nd floor. The first floor tenants were the son and daughter-in-law of the owners, who lived in Arlington. The neighborhood was a mix of townies and students; a blend of sleepy and ruckus. It was a perfect combo that felt right. Half of Hillsdale Ave was in Somerville, the other half was Medford. Woahhh! At this very moment, truly, I just realized that half the street I live on now is in Amesbury and the other half, Salisbury. Are there no coincidences?
I sat in my car for a bit, looking at that white aluminum-sided house with the blue shutters, remembering all the parties I’d thrown, the Christmas dinners I hosted for friends in the dining room, the peach paint I slapped on the kitchen walls, the vintage velour blue/green sofa in our living room, all the funky friends I met through both of my part time jobs catering and waitressing in Cambridge, all the while working 9-5.
I remember relaxing on both the east facing front porch in the morning sun and the west facing back porch in the evening. That murky, brown and green shingled house that stood behind ours always bugged me because it blocked my view. Although I could partially see the sun in the orange sky preparing to set, I could never truly see it set.
The friendly, curly-haired kid who lived there was a student at Tufts, drove a Ford (that practical affordable one that became uber popular that decade), and had a cute tan-colored dog with floppy ears (in addition to the model of this young man’s sedan, I also forgot the name of his sweet dog). He was a very pleasant chap so I decided his house could stay. I’d compromise on my sunset.
The length of the house was south-facing and also sat on a corner, which meant the sunlight would come dripping through the entire apartment all day long. On this recent day when I drove by, it was a beautiful, blue, cloudless, sunny, spring day and I imagined myself in that sun-filled kitchen leaning over the sink, cleaning the French coffee press, and looking out the window at the neighbor’s house directly across the way, also on the corner. They had a little white dog, slightly duller than the white paint on the house, that yapped all the time and ran the length of the chain link fence, back and forth, all day. (Why is it always the white dogs?!) Never dared say anything to the owners since they were townies. And of course, you realize I don’t remember that dog’s name either. I don’t think I wanted to.
I remember painting the kitchen a peach color, trying to divert attention from those ridiculous fake brown/reddish bricks we had for a backsplash. And the annoying black cordless phone that could never successfully stand upright in its cradle on the kitchen counter. I remember attempting to grow sunflowers in a little patch of grass in the front yard, to the left of the front steps, and having lots of flower pots on my porch. I realized this city gardening of my past had prepared me for a future of gardening in the country.
I remember buying a dark green coffee table at the Salvation Army on Broadway. It had interesting leather on top but the previous owner had done a somewhat sloppy job painting it. Still didn’t take away my interest in it. The wood was solid and in great shape. Couldn’t have been more than $15. I still have it and to this day, it serves as my coffee table. Approaching 30 years! It’s the perfect size with nicely shaped legs, thank you very much.
I remember walking to and from the Davis Square T stop, about a mile from my house, and not feeling afraid - day or night. Night being as late as 11pm, a time or two. I remember heads being down when riding the subway but they were looking at books or newspapers, not cell phones, and some riders would actually look up occasionally to give or get a real smile every now and again.
I walked that route for five months after my gray Honda Civic’s engine seized on a hot summer day as I was driving home from a catering gig. The absence of an auto to transport me, and relying only on my legs, enabled me to be more aware of my surroundings. Those five months of walking took me past things I might not otherwise have noticed - the chipping paint on the big wooden door of the brick church on the corner, the house with the fragrant honeysuckle that wound its way through the chain link fence, and the lone “corner store” across from it that was no bigger than a shoebox. I loved walking, but it was never fun in the rain.
I remember that big city being greatly diverse, affordable and not congested. I remember some people referring to it as “Slumerville” (joke’s on them now, given real estate prices, right?), and me getting all pissy and defensive. “Don’t diss my town!” I’d tell them. They were baffled why I would move from Brookline to Somerville. Why not? Bigger apartment, lots of windows, hardwood floors, tons of bright sun, a spare room, a free(!) parking spot, top floor, and a real neighborhood. And did I say the price was right? Truth is, I always root for the under dog.
To this day, I’m grateful that my sense of community pride hasn’t abandoned me. Zip codes shouldn’t be the cause of such huge divides. But they are. And we all know it.
Some of the best years of my life, nearly a decade, were spent living in that apartment during the 90s. A time of fun, new experiences, and self discovery. 8 years, 2 bedrooms, 2 porches, 4 different roommates at different times (when you could actually find both an apartment and a roommate pretty easily from a classified ad in the hip Boston Phoenix paper), 1 driveway and plenty of on-street parking. Oh, and the rent was $750 a month. It was a huge place, by comparison. And in very good shape. We were very fortunate to have found this location, away from the fray. May 1, 1999, the day I moved out the rent jumped to $1,100.
As I sat in my car, I wondered what goes on in there now. Who are they who live there? Do they keep it clean and tidy? Do they respect the space? Do they drink their morning coffee on the front porch and entertain friends? Are they happy and did they paint over the peach? What type of energy is in the space? Not for me to know.
Home is where the heart is. My apartment became my home and my friends became my family. I will forever cherish these memories. A little piece of my heart will always, always be in Somerville. I drove off, misty-eyed, and jumped on the highway heading home to the North Shore. I’m sure I’ll drive by 117 Hillsdale again, and I’m certain I’ll feel no less nostalgic.