Starting a Marriage in a Garden Apartment by
(286 Stories)

Prompted By My First Apartment

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My first real apartment, not counting the college one with mean notes posted on the refrigerator to clean the bathroom and the dial removed from one roommate’s television so no one else could watch it, was the basement unit (AKA Garden Apartment) my new husband and I inhabited right after our wedding in August of 1968. I found it on an index card posted in the teachers’ lounge of the school in which I would be teaching that fall. The price was right, and being very young and inexperienced in apartment hunting, we took it sight unseen.

A large part of its appeal was the rent, $150 per month, which we could afford on my $6,000 per year salary as a high school English teacher. Since my new husband was earning nothing as a medical student, the rent was the thirty percent of our income recommended by “how to budget” articles. The apartment’s other claim to fame was its proximity to public transportation.

We furnished it with a goldish-orange sofa and a round gold tweed shag rug created from a remnant. Not sure why we went with round. We must have thought it was different and therefore added a touch of class. Those colors went well with our avocado appliances. Remember, it was 1968. We had received stackable TV tables as a shower gift, so we placed them at either end of the sofa. We also had a bedroom set, a wedding gift from my parents. And some sort of kitchen table with black vinyl chairs. Not sure where we purchased that, but it was cheap and served the purpose of filling the kitchen and having a place to eat.

The pièce de résistance was our wall unit, which was a wedding gift from my husband’s parents. It consisted of three black metal poles to which shelves and cabinets were attached. We put it together assuming the poles would hold up everything, even though they were sitting on a vinyl tiled floor and touched a ceiling that was the floor of the tenant above us. All of our worldly goods and treasures were housed in that unit. Our good china and stemware were in the cabinets. Waterford vases and bowls decorated the shelves, along with what turned out to be too many heavy books.

Note wall unit on poles in the background

I’m sure you can guess where is story is headed. We woke to a loud crash in the middle of the night. There were most of our finer things shattered on the floor. Amazingly, some treasures hit the round rug and survived. After shedding a few tears, we cleaned up and headed to work minus some pieces of Lennox stemware and serving dishes and a good portion of our Waterford collection. For years, my parents gifted us with these lost items as anniversary presents. Today, they reside, unused but safe, in my dining room cabinet.

We couldn’t afford much art to decorate our walls so my father’s paintings and some cheaply framed reproductions did the trick. The kitchen really needed something to perk up its white metal cabinets, white walls, and black linoleum floor. Wallpaper, which was very popular back then, was not in our budget. But contact paper was. Yep, we put it all over the walls, smoothing out the inevitable bubbles as best we could. As I recall, it was orange, avocado, and gold. Stunning. Well, at least it was colorful.

Having a basement unit definitely had its drawbacks. First of all, the view. If you like looking at people’s legs, it was pretty good. Also, since I was alone on nights when my husband was on call, I felt exposed and vulnerable. For these reasons, we kept the shades drawn all of the time. This annoyed our landlord, who came into our apartment when we were at work and school without our permission and raised the shades. Seems the windows were so poorly insulated that drawing the shades led to condensation and rotted the wood.

The other huge drawback to our basement unit was the people who lived above us. Lucky us, it was a family with three little kids. I felt sorry for the children who had so little play space and didn’t mind at all that they played in the hallway or rode trikes and scooters above us or jumped on beds and furniture, except on weekends when it would have been nice to get some extra sleep. Even worse, though, was that their parents had huge and loud fights many evenings after the kids were in bed. The only solution to that was to sleep with a broom next to our bed and pound the ceiling. Very classy.

I was more than ready to leave this first apartment, which we did when I was eight months pregnant. I have definitely repressed the details of that move, although our next one with kids ages three and one was much harder. And where did we move? To another apartment in a high rise building on the campus of Michael Reese Hospital. My husband loved it because it was so convenient for his residency. I hated it even more than my first one, but that’s another story.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Tags: first apartment, new marriage, 1968
Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, your first apartment sounds a lot like mine, though we were six years later and Dan still brought in income working summers when not in grad school to supplement the $7,000 I earned my first year working. We lived on the first floor, not the basement and had pink, not avocado appliances, but same vintage. We paid $245/month in rent. We didn’t have fine crystal or china (years later, my mother gave me hers); we only had everyday-wear and that all fit in the kitchen cabinets. But we did have shelving that was attached through suspension poles to the ceiling. We put books, the TV, stereo (a used one, a gift from my brother), records and some decorative items on the shelves, but they never collapsed. By the way, that is a beautiful photo of you from that era; you are a true beauty!

    I totally relate to your entire story, though we moved many times before we had our children. We’d been married 11 years at that point, and moved from our Back Bay (Boston) condo to our current home (of 32 years) in Newton when our first was 15 months old. My husband is making noises about down-sizing, but I won’t hear of it.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Betsy, I knew we had things in common but I never dreamed it would be shelving on suspension poles back in the day. Thanks for your compliment about my photo from New Year’s 1969. I find that old photos age well, like fine wine. Despite all of its issues, I was pretty proud of that apartment at the time.

  2. Suzy says:

    Laurie, great story and wonderful photos! I love seeing the young you lying on the couch reading, and the pic of you in the black dress is to die for! I know the black dress photo is there to show the wall unit, but who can even look at that when you are so beautiful!! And how tragic it must have felt when that wall unit collapsed and you lost so many of your treasures.

    Thanks for sharing this piece of your life. So glad to have you on the Retrospect team!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Suzy, my husband and I have similar photos on that couch. Thanks for the complements on my black dress News Years photo from 1969. Haven’t changed a bit in 50 years (LOL)! So glad to be part of the Retrospect Team. Fun to share these blast-from-the-past stories and photos.

  3. Marian says:

    Laurie, I love how your orange decor complements my green rug! Ouch, those shelves. Here in California we learned the lesson of securing shelving to our walls, especially after the 1989 quake. You look stunning!

  4. You definitely caught the starting-out syndrome here, Laurie, with your basements and budgets and wall unit betrayals. The orange-and-gold decor also lit me up w/memories of 1960s technicolor. Your observation about people’s legs brought back recollections of a similar basement apartment in the Village where I spent time. Thanks!

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