The Way We Were by
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Black trunk and mattress on the floor, the Haight 1974

In the garage there is still a battered black trunk made of some sort of reinforced cardboard, a bit mildewed in places.  At one point it held essentials I brought to college—a quilt, some clothes–and it has been dragged around ever since, filled with ever less critical things I can’t bear to throw away.  It reminds me of the current surfeit of stuff I need to get rid of.  But it used to hold all I owned.

The house looked sort of lived-in, and we loved it, eclectic and thrown-together though it was.

For many years, I lived in dorms or in houses with multiple roommates—not much nesting there.  But in medical school I shared an old Victorian in the Haight with 5 other people, and there was a collective effort to make it a home:  We made a living-room rug duct-taped together from old carpet samples, repurposed a door into a dining room table set on cinder blocks perfect for seating on the floor, someone had obtained an ancient upright piano, and we built bins for bulk food storage.  The piece de resistance was a room we turned into a library, with many board-feet of pooled books, labelled into categories (health, labor studies, law, race relations, and politics of all stripes from Marx to Mao).  My room had a mattress on the floor, a beat-up desk that looked like a dresser (with a drawer missing and turned into a shelf) with a leaf that folded down for writing– left behind by a former roommate.  And of course the black trunk.

That household didn’t last and was followed by multiple other makeshift arrangements.  It wasn’t until after residency, when I moved back to Oakland for a real job, that I really had a nest of my own to feather.  I embraced homeowner debt, bought a little bungalow and Sally and I moved in together.

The house was a two-bedroom, one-bath, in craftsman-ish style, built of good redwood maybe 60 or 70 years before.  The furnishings were an assortment of second-hand and haphazardly-acquired items. I still had that desk/dresser thing from the Haight days.  We had a table in the kitchen taken from a previous house, and a big overstuffed armchair Sally had retrieved from a street curb years earlier (and we still have, several upholsterings later).  She also brought along an old bedstead and dresser that had been rescued from the basement of her previous apartment.  The dining room table was built from a salvaged fishing boat wooden butcher block received in barter for Sally’s legal services.   A telephone table in the hall was ancient and of unknown provenance.  We ultimately bought a couch in an improbable upholstery design of turquoise and pink. We hung bamboo shades, covered with colorful homemade cloth curtains after we banished the dark drapes left by previous owners.  Posters on the wall.  You get the picture.

In any case, the house looked sort of lived-in, and we loved it, eclectic and thrown-together though it was.  My sister came to visit shortly after we moved in, cast her eye around the mish-mash of furniture and in a fit of enthusiasm offered, “Oh!  You’ve done your house in ANTIQUES!”

 

Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Love it Khati, and love your sister’s euphemistic antiques comment!

    “Eclectic” and “shabby chic” are other nice descriptors – and don’t get me wrong – I love eclectic and shabby chic!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love that your sister designated your furnishings “antiques”. Just so! I had a trunk just like yours that I used to take my possessions to camp. We called it a footlocker (before the store took the name for athletic shoes; I think it came from the military). You did what you needed to do to bring comfort and purpose to your living arrangements. It has worked for you.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    I believe there was as much wisdom as humor to your sister’s comment, intended or not The furnishings may not have been technically “antiques” (I forget how many years that requires, and it keeps changing), but, throughout your lovely description, I kept thinking “cozy, cozy, cozy,” which is pretty damn good. And especially in a legitimately old house and at that early stage in your and Sally’s lives and careers.

    In short, I think your nest was indeed nicely feathered!

  4. Suzy says:

    First I have to say that I love that picture of you, Khati! It’s so fabulously ’70s! The description of all the motley furniture you acquired is great too – wish you had a photo of the turquoise and pink couch! Thanks for re-creating that era so well with your words, I can almost see it all.

  5. Marian says:

    Your house was real boho rather than the fake boho that’s trendy today, Khati. I can well visualize the place. Love the photo from the Haight days, and so illustrative of that era. At about that time, I had a boyfriend who was into co-op/communal living in various places in San Francisco, and while the decor was always on the funky side, the houses were fabulous and interesting. One had a super-deep Japanese soaking tub that was out of this world. We all outgrew those times, but they are fun to remember.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I did enjoy my time in various communal houses. You never had to go anywhere—the entertainment was right there at home. And the old neighborhoods and buildings were great. Our lack of belongings was immaterial, so to speak. But I have certainly long ago outgrown the mattress on the floor phase—my knees don’t do that anymore.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Your story brought back so many familiar decorating tips from our early days. The door and cinder block table (or desk or shelving unit) was one we used for sure. When we started our preschool with no furnishings, we turned drawers on their sides to create cubbies for toys. Lots of repurposing when funds are tight, but when I think of it now, it’s so much better than buying new things all of the time and creating more trash!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, now more than ever the benefits of reusing, recycling, repairing and repurposing are clear. We got some of that from our Depression-era parents, and the hazards of overconsumption and waste have become clear as we have damaged our planet. So we were on the right track baby all along.

  7. Love the antiques euphemism, Khati. When I think of all the odd assemblages I’ve lived among, including a gigantic PG&E spool for a table base, I gotta laugh. I had a similar trunk that I still use, a CO_OP Crate, as many may recall, that now holds some of the oldest and juiciest memorabilia I own.

  8. Right, Khati. I can’t seem to stop writing about those days, so there must have been something to it all…

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