There are an awful lot of memories associated with our house at 119 Ave. C, but I think the most vivid one is of me standing on the front sidewalk and looking at a pillar of flame climbing up out of the backyard. I couldn’t tell if the back of the house or the garage was on fire, but I figured it had to be one or the other. I remember being quite calm, possibly because I thought that the seemingly inevitable outcome of all those house parties with the backyard firepit had finally come to pass.
But no. When I ran around to the back, it was just the firepit itself, into which Brett French had just finished feeding our very dry Christmas tree. I was relieved and awestruck. That was some kind of fire. Brett was impressed, too, so impressed that he roped somebody with a truck into driving up and down alleys in the neighborhood until he had found another three or four Christmas trees, which were soon creating their own pillars of flame. Our neighbors must have gotten used to it over the years because no one ever called the fire department. Or maybe they were just hoping we finally would burn the joint down and move somewhere else.
This is all by way of noting that after 23 years and five weeks at 119 Ave. C, we have moved, into a loft apartment at South Broadway and Minnesota Avenue. We’re liking the loft, and it was indescribably gratifying to junk, sell or give away at least half of our worldly possessions, but it’s still hard to imagine not living at 119. We spent a good portion of our lives there. When the Kemmicks moved into 119 in 1990, Pari was a few days old, Hayley was 6 and Jessie was 10. So it has been our home for all of Pari’s life, and the geographical center of most of our family’s memories.
The house turned 100 this year and in many respects it showed. A sagging roof, a wobbly porch, plumbing badly in need of replacement, a scarred linoleum floor in the kitchen, screens and storm windows on the verge of disintegration … etc. But that old house had an amazing spirit and was the seat of so many fine gatherings that brought together so many fine people that we overlooked (criminally neglected?) her flaws and loved her just the same.
They say wooden instruments literally absorb music and become richer and mellower with age. Just imagine how many notes were absorbed by 119 during the 23 years we lived there. My favorite memory in that regard was during a winter gathering. The house was jammed with people and 15 or 20 of us were playing instruments. A whole gang of young women — Pari, Hayley, Carrie, Ann and Amanda among them — began spontaneously creating these amazing harmonies, the highlight being “I’ll Fly Away.” When it became obvious that something unforgettable was taking place, the chattering stopped, the vocals soared above the instruments and all of us were just swept away by the beauty of what we were hearing. The living room wasn’t quite so full of spirit last time I saw it:
This was also the house where John and Pam met. Pam lived three doors to the east and John lived two doors to the west, and they literally courted on our front porch. It was very Andy of Mayberryish, but it didn’t seem odd on Avenue C. That’s the kind of old-fashioned, front-porch neighborhood it was. And we were blessed with great neighbors: Alma next door, who recently turned 90 but is still incredibly lively and fun; Mrs. Bauer on the other side of us, an endearing old North Dakota Cherman (her pronunciation); Carol and Ray; Char, Linda, Connie and Mike. And of course, when Pam lived down the street we got to know Ryan and Joe and Kelsey and Katy. Neighbors who moved away or passed on included old Cletus, whom we always referred to as the Mayor of Avenue C; Alma’s husband Bob, who had a soft spot for Pari; Dave and JoJean; Todd Eagle; Ray; the late Joe Schlesser; Tiffany; and many others.
Other memories: Little Pari running up and down the block, buck-naked, usually in pursuit of some passing dog she wanted to pet. Gangs of kids jumping on the trampoline with a sprinkler underneath it — on the trampoline which was not to be used when wet and never by more than one person. Yeah, right. Playing “English Girls” with whichever of Jessie’s, Hayley’s or Pari’s friends slept over. It was a ridiculous little game I came up with, but goddamn they all loved it and so did I. Bringing Josie home from that dangerous cracker family in the Heights. Bringing Xavi home from the house of the woman who found him abandoned by the river when just a pup. Making crepes on a weekend morning. Being invaded over the lunch hour by Hayley and her gang of soccer friends, who descended like locusts on our kitchen. Playing “spoons” at holiday gatherings with the Toltons, Tollefsons, J.P. and various other friends and family members. Inaugurating a very swell series of all-night house parties starting with Lisa’s 50th birthday celebration. Jessie attempting to establish a bedroom in the dank, spidery basement and soon giving it up. Hayley practicing her violin, Jessie her clarinet, Pari the clarinet and piano. Lying in bed reading Laura Ingalls Wilder with the girls. Hayley and Jessie teaching Pari to walk in record time. All those group pictures on the porch, including a couple of barefoot Christmases. All the gatherings with “the other Kemmicks,” who finally came down out of the hills and moved into the neighborhood a few years ago (and yes, we still consider ourselves in the neighborhood). Frigo banging on the piano, Will on the bass. The indescribable joy of seeing Amalia in our house. I could go on…
But Lisa and I had been talking about moving into a loft almost from the first time I reported on Randy Hafer’s many loft projects. In fact, I’m pretty sure the building we’re in, formerly the Armour Cold Storage building, was his first loft project, something like 12 or 15 years ago. And now we’re here. Moving was so hectic and time-consuming that we don’t really feel we’ve even had time to settle in and completely relax yet, but we do love everything about it. Well, maybe the trains could be just a wee bit quieter, but as I’ve said, I used to sleep on freight trains so surely I can sleep next to one.
We’ve got a few pictures to hang (and we still hope to find our kitchen knives), but we’re 90 percent settled. Here’s how it looks now: