Little House in the ‘Hood by
100
(134 Stories)

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At last I was successfully disentangling from a bad relationship with an incipiently psychotic partner and needed to move out, now.  A colleague at work turned out to be the landlady of an available place, not far from our community health clinic, and I grabbed it.

At last I was successfully disentangling from a bad relationship with an incipiently psychotic partner and needed to move out, now.  A colleague at work turned out to be the landlady of an available place, not far from our community health clinic, and I grabbed it.

This was the first (and so far, only) time I lived on my own.  Before then it was family, schoolmates in dorms, roommates in apartments or old houses—good to have the company and cheaper too. But now I was 31, had finished all my training, had a real job, was unencumbered and ready for the change.

The little house on Hughes St was nestled at the end of a one-block dead-end street, comfortably close to work in distance and character.  The Fruitvale district in Oakland had been a working-class and immigrant neighborhood for over a hundred years, attracting Germans, Portuguese and African Americans and it was fast becoming a center of the Latino community.  My tiny clapboard house must have dated from the early twentieth century.

The front door opened directly into a living room, with a bathroom and bedroom down the hall.  To the left was the kitchen with a screen back door and space for a table, and a bonus room behind that. I leased a piano and played it there. Light filled the front rooms.  Perfect for me and a cat.

There were friendly neighbors on either side—Elsie who was widowed and retired on one hand and a young couple, Hilary and Rich, on the other. The front yard was just big enough to fill with an instant garden from a starter six-pack of corn and tomatoes. For a while an errant domestic bunny hung out there.

This charming spot was a surprise, tucked just off a street that ran behind the local Safeway parking lot, on the corner of Foothill and Fruitvale.  It was a rather bleak but busy intersection edged by of the Safeway, an empty lot (maybe from a former gas station), and competing corner liquor stores.  Obscure storefronts lined Foothill, and further down was the original Hell’s Angel’s clubhouse.

One of the businesses with an ominous closed iron grating sported a sign above it alleging “Pookie’s Creole Kitchen”; it actually housed a geode of thickly flocked red wallpaper and crisp cotton tablecloths, with Pookie herself cooking up unbelievably delicious Nawlins specialties to order.  Once you made friends with the man who answered the knocking at the iron grate.

Next to the empty lot on Fruitvale was the mysterious “Mr. Gee’s House of Lee”, which seemed deserted but one day sprouted a hand-lettered sign indicating BBQ inside.  Gingerly pushing open the door, the dark vestibule led to a rounded red footbridge spanning a defunct water feature and further on to a cavernous space with a few rickety tables with random bits of silverware.  There seemed to be no customers but a light came from what was presumably a kitchen in the back.  No menu.  A couple of women seated on chairs looked at me suspiciously.  Umm, is this a place to get BBQ?   What did I want?  Maybe they had it today.  I ordered whatever they had, and it was good, but I didn’t go back, and the sign went away, and one day it turned into a laundromat.

The few blocks further down Fruitvale you passed the new Spanish-speaking Unity Council headquarters, a mechanic’s garage, more houses, and a little park that backed onto an urban creek.  The community health center itself was a hodge-podge of several converted houses that had expanded and morphed as the services grew. Over time, it has become a vast empire of clinics and services throughout several counties, a key part of community health but in some ways distant from its humble beginnings.

I lived happily in that neighborhood for just over a year, as if it were where I was supposed to be.  When a new relationship blossomed and we moved into our own house, it was not too far away, but just a little further up the hill from the flats, and a little better off, and just enough of a physical and psychological distance to make me a little uncomfortable.   Since then, each life move has been further up the metaphorical hill, and I have justified and accepted the good parts, but have tried to remember where it all started.

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Good neighbors always welcome.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your own first house does indeed sound perfect for you and your cat, Khati. You describe your neighborhood with such precision that we get a real feel for the flavor and character, step by step. The Creole cooking sounds delicious, once you get past the gate. Not so, the BBQ. Your neighborhood health center sounds like it grew by leaps and bounds and provided the care required of such a diverse set of needs. I particularly liked your ending metaphor of moving up the hill.

  3. Thanx Khati for another wonderfully descriptive story and another peek into your richly lived life!

  4. Those are some very sweet remembrances! I especially loved the place that may have served barbecue, but you ate whatever it was they were serving, and then it turned eventually into a laundromat. You are a good chronicler–you’ve got a bit of Armistead Maupin in you (“Tales of the City…”)

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    That first little house is always a special memory. While we have only lived in one house, our first apartment was spartan but memorable because it was my first experience living in my own place.

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