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Discovering Old World Charms

Story and photos by John May

An early morning walk turns into a step back in time  for this couple

My significant other and I agreed on a pact during this last weekend to both strengthen our relationship and our health.

The starting point of our “pact” involved setting our alarm clock to go off a full 30 minutes earlier in our morning. Monday morning, we crawled out of bed and traipsed through our accustomed ritual of my coffee brewing and her hair drying. We commuted together as usual to our jobs in downtown Bakersfield a mere half an hour earlier than we had the week before. We parked on one of the lettered side streets in the neighborhood north of the Mercy Hospital complex and south of the old Westchester area and laced up our walking shoes. We continued our pact.

“Come on,” she said.

We walked.

At the intersection of the first numbered street, we turned and headed east into the sunrise.

I said, “I don’t think I got to finish my coffee.”

She replied, “And my hair is still wet. Come on. Don’t be walking like some old relic.”

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We ambled along the neighborhood sidewalk weathered from decades of intense summer sun and the penetrating dampness of winter fog. I read the name of the stamp of a long forgotten construction contractor embedded in the concrete.

I pointed down and said, ‘Look, here’s the name of the...”

She interrupted, “Look at that house; all those colors,” and pointed to an interesting multi-colored gabled house across and half of a block away. “Let’s go.”

We hustled over and then stood on the concrete walk out front. We gawked for a moment at the second story attic vent and the pendant under the roof eve above the front porch.

The front of the house was blended with three different colors of paint—sky blue, mauve, and a pastel shade of white—and the morning sun illuminated all three.

She said, “Isn’t that the most interesting little extra touch?”

I examined the pendant and then said, “I can’t imagine how many small pieces of wood went into making that.”

“And that little blue window she has...sets off the entire porch,” she said. “Doesn’t it?”

I might have grumbled about “all of that painting.”

She remarked, “But, wouldn’t it be great honey, to come home and pull up in front of this house?”

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I glanced up again.

She added, “Wouldn’t it?”

“Well, thank goodness they’ve managed to keep the aluminum siding crew off their property. I suppose playing with paint might have been...”

“Don’t be staring at her,” she said and we launched into our morning walk again.

We hadn’t hiked far when we arrived in front of another house that seemed stouter than its neighbors.

“I love this home, too. But, he could be from someplace else.”

“Like where?”

“He looks like he belongs back home in Dallas,” she said. “Doesn’t he?”

She continued, “The top of his roof needs the weathervane put back though.”

I looked up and envisioned myself with a weathervane in one hand and a bag of tools in the other rolling off of the steep circular roof and hitting the ground below with a thud.

“Let’s keep on moving,” she said.

We traversed around half a dozen city blocks. She pointed out other examples of craftsmanship. We arrived at a corner in the shade of a large brick building.

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She said, “Does it feel as though someone is watching us?”

I looked up and down the street. She looked straight up and pointed.

We both strained to look overhead. Stretched out from the brick and mounted to the underside of the roof overhang a pair of eyes gazed down on us.

“What does it look like to you, honey?”

She replied, “Don’t you see it? That’s a kitten sitting on top of the board looking over the edge down on us.”

“No,” I said, “that’s an owl.”

“I’m sure that is a kitten if only we could get up there to see.”

“I’d rather not,” I said. Then I thought, that’s not worth climbing up a ladder—those must be kitten eyes.

We crossed the numbered street and pressed on.

After half an hour, we found our car and drove to our downtown day jobs.

I realized that just before lunch that Monday morning at work, I was still alert.

Next morning, we parked at a spot near the sidewalk stamped Larsen & Rawlings -

Bakersfield in the concrete. We dodged a stream of water that splashed across the walk from a pair of lawn sprinklers.

We walked to the corner and turned away from the sunrise. The early morning sun warmed our shoulders. We passed under a low hanging street tree and discovered another design to gawk at. We stopped across the wide paved avenue.

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Our new home featured twin triangles—one covered the porch, the other rested on a front room. A smaller triangle formed the peak. Centered within two of the triangles was a pair of half crescent-shaped wooden vent openings with radial patterns. A turret wall accented the front right and was finished with a cupola. A black horse and carriage weathervane topped the cupola of this home.

She said, “Look how beautiful the artwork is on him. What a beautiful home.”

I counted five colors of paint.

She added, “You know?”

I envisioned the house as it was being finished. A craftsman stood ankle deep firmly on the ground in a carpet of sawdust and wood shavings. He trimmed a length of weatherboard balanced between a pair of sawhorses. A carpenter fitted the wood gingerbread siding and tapped them into place with his hammer. Another man shimmed the windows into place.

She asked, “How large are the rooms do you think?”

“You can sort of tell by—I don’t rightly know how you can tell without going inside.”

She said, “I wonder just how many mornings the sun has peered through those corner windows.”

We paused for a moment longer then she said, “Let’s go find another one.”

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She looked back.

“How I would have loved to have lived in that room.”

We ambled on for a few blocks. A bright yellow house gained our attention.

She said, “I love that porch. I really love the steps. Reminds me of our porch when I was a little girl.”

I added, “My best friend back home in Chicago had a front porch that looked like that. We played Monopoly every evening, for one entire summer. It was so hot that year, I remember.”

“When I was a girl we would line a bunch of chairs up on our porch and maybe five of us would pass a secret around and see if it was the same when it got to the last person.

“And what else I like about all those steps,” she continued, “is that the ‘baits’ can’t get in the house.”

“Baits?”

“You know—worms. That’s what they were called back home in Texas. Daddy fished a lot and he and the boys called them ‘baits.’ ”

I realized that in the mid afternoon of that second day at the office, I was still alert. I thought about ‘baits’ and tall ladders.

On the third morning, we picked up our walk where we had left off. We avoided more sprinklers and headed toward the old Westchester neighborhood.

In the shade of a mature pepper tree on a lettered side street we found a modest home. I pictured myself caring for this house. I could deal with the step ladder heights to work on this roof.

She said, “She looks like such a happy place to live.”

“Come on,” she said, “this home is too perfect. I think I want to live here.”

I matched her stride along one of the heavily traveled numbered streets. We circled the entire neighborhood.

We arrived at a cross street and allowed a car to pass. I leaned against a light standard to rest, looked down the wide street and noticed the simple beauty of the home that was situated on the corner.

Rays of sunshine radiated from the threshold of the attic vent above a second story window. The rays might have been constructed from leftover slats of wood. The carpenter from so long ago could have easily hammered in a rectangular shaped screen, descended his ladder, and called it a day. Instead, he took a moment to gather an armful of lumber and make a few cuts with his beloved crosscut saw. That carpenter shaped a signature element of charm which afforded this house a touch of uniqueness.

I suppose that climbing a tall ladder with a can of paint and splashing a little turquoise color on the trim might be kind of fun.

She tapped the back of my leg, “Wake up, honey, and stop staring. We’ve got to keep walking. Come on.”

“And what else I like about all those steps,” she continued, “is that the ‘baits’ can’t get in the house.”

“Baits?”

“You know—worms. That’s what they were called back home in Texas. Daddy fished a lot and he and the boys called them ‘baits.’ ”

I realized that in the mid afternoon of that second day at the office, I was still alert. I thought about ‘baits’ and tall ladders.

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On the third morning, we picked up our walk where we had left off. We avoided more sprinklers and headed toward the old Westchester neighborhood.

In the shade of a mature pepper tree on a lettered side street we found a modest home. I pictured myself caring for this house. I could deal with the step ladder heights to work on this roof.

She said, “She looks like such a happy place to live.”

“Come on,” she said, “this home is too perfect. I think I want to live here.”

I matched her stride along one of the heavily traveled numbered streets. We circled the entire neighborhood.

We arrived at a cross street and allowed a car to pass. I leaned against a light standard to rest, looked down the wide street and noticed the simple beauty of the home that was situated on the corner.

Rays of sunshine radiated from the threshold of the attic vent above a second story window. The rays might have been constructed from leftover slats of wood. The carpenter from so long ago could have easily hammered in a rectangular shaped screen, descended his ladder, and called it a day. Instead, he took a moment to gather an armful of lumber and make a few cuts with his beloved crosscut saw. That carpenter shaped a signature element of charm which afforded this house a touch of uniqueness.

I suppose that climbing a tall ladder with a can of paint and splashing a little turquoise color on the trim might be kind of fun.

She tapped the back of my leg, “Wake up, honey, and stop staring. We’ve got to keep walking. Come on.”

Article appeared in our 28-3 Issue - August 2011