Thursday, September 15, 2011

My Childhood Home - Googled Memories

Many years ago, I lived on a quiet street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I grew up in the same house that my parents still live in today.
Images of that house, and the neighborhood, remain vivid to me and my memories are abundant. Even though it has been a while since I've been back for a visit, I can conjure up enough memories to put me right back on Hastings Street, even in the middle of a snowy winter.

A few days ago, I sold some books on eBay.
The buyer happened to live in Pittsburgh, so, on a whim, I decided to Google Map his house, as I was addressing the box.  I was curious to see how close he lived to my neighborhood, and it turned out that he lived in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  Point Breeze, where my house stands, is in the East End of Pittsburgh, a fair distance away.

So, since I was in the neighborhood (via Google maps), I figured to look in on my folks to see how accurate my memories actually were.
However, I realized that I had never seen my house from the perspective of the first offered Google view.  As if I was floating along in a hot air balloon, I peered down at my neighborhood, pleasantly surprised to see how many trees filled the clustered, straight streets.
My particular street, Hastings Street, seemed strangely straight from above, giving little sign that it was actually a pretty steep hill.  I never considered how many houses were clumped so close together, and how close each house was to the next. 

It looked like this, with the little red A point being my house:

Remember to click on the pictures to enlarge them

I zoomed in to my street to get a better view (by letting air out of my virtual hot air balloon).  Closer, I could see more detail.

Clearly now, I could make out my house, sandwiched between our neighbors bigger structures.  The backyard, that I remembered being open to the sky, seemed obscured by a big tree.  The addition (known to us as the gameroom) that was built behind the house is visible, but just barely.  I lived in that room, with my older brother, for nearly a decade.  The small, lighter green tree in the backyard is likely what is left of the Peach tree.  I wonder if it still produces peaches like it used to.

I grabbed the little Google dude and placed him on the street, right in front of the house, in order to take a look at it.
What I saw truly surprised me, and I looked at the current view of my childhood home with wonder, trying to absorb the change.

Before you can see what I saw, let's go back in time and take a look at what the house appeared like in February of 1986.  It was the middle of winter with snow piled in the driveway, and icicles hanging from the gutters.  It looked like this:

Notice the bricky smallness of the house, compared to the barnlike Coyne's house on the left.  The Coyne's were an Irish family with a lot of kids, mostly older than the kids in my family.  Johnny Coyne was right between me and my older brother, but ended up in my grade.  We went to kindergarden together, but he ended up going to a different elementary school.  By high school, we didn't see much of each other.  Johnny committed suicide when he was 18, and I remember seeing the police cars and the ambulance outside of his house as I left one day on my way to class (at the University of Pittsburgh).  He shot himself with a gun, somewhere on the top floor, which is all I ever think about when I see that little rectangular window on their house.

The house on the other side were the Budways.  They were a Lebanese family, also with older kids, and almost all of them talented musicians.  David, the oldest, went on to become a well-known Jazz musician.  He has played piano for Liza Minnelli, and has a big following in NYC, where he now lives.  His sister, Maureen, a vocalist, still lives in the house on Hastings Street and sings in clubs and bars.  My parents go to see her on occasion and boast of her beautiful voice as if she was a kid of their own.

If you look at the houses nestled together, you'll notice the "Christmas trees" planted by my father back in the Seventies.  The "Bush" in front of the house provided some privacy to the porch, where my father spent an inordinate amount of time reading (when it wasn't freezing out).  His husky spent an equal amount of time under the bush, enjoying it's shade in the sweltering summertime.
Our garage had been painted and repainted many times.  At this point, it sported a dark blue border with lighter blue checkered squares. Dad's car fit nicely inside the garage, hiding from the snow and the salt of the road.  My car, the blue Oldsmobile in front of the Budway's house can be seen in the photo shivering and sad.

Fast forward a decade, and I have moved to sunny California (perhaps due, in part, to those frigid winters).
I enrolled myself in an Acrylic Painting class at the College of Marin.
The instructor told us to bring a photo to class that we wanted to paint, so I brought (you guessed it) the one above.
520 Hastings Street, a winter view.

The painting, which took me eight weeks to finish:

A copy of it hangs proudly in my parent's home and has been shown to probably everyone who has walked into that house.  The original hangs in my living room here on Maui, and I just took it down to take a picture of it, to share it with you.
Notice the similarities between it and the actual photo.
Also, note the differences, some of which were intentional (like the Budway's yellow lighted windows) and some were not (the windows being much larger, too large, in the painting).
Painting the house brought back memories for me, as it does now, even just looking at the painting.

Fast forward another 15 years and here I am, sitting at my computer on an island in the middle of the Pacific, looking at pictures of Hastings Street on Google Maps.

The current view of my house from the street that initially puzzled me was this one:

 Ummm... I see the "bush," but where is the house?

I walked down the street, with my little Goggle guy, and looked at the house from several angles, never getting much of a glimpse of the actual house.  It was all bush.
This bush had grown untrimmed far too long.
[Insert smarmy seventies porn jokes here].

I put two pix together to give a more panoramic view, but it only served to prove that the "bush" had now completely obscured any street view of the house.  

Privacy was one thing, wilderness living, quite another.

What did Dad feed the bush?

I had actually toyed with the idea of repainting the house scene, but the bush took away any of those notions. It would be a strange and curious painting, that would take some explaining.

I walked the street in Googlevision, looking up and down the hill.

Up Hastings Street

Down Hastings Street

 In the downward view, you can catch a glimpse of the house dwarfed behind the foliage.  My Dad's Toyota Camry sits alone outside the house, keeping guard.

Yesterday, I spoke with my parents on the phone and I mentioned during the conversation that I was able to see the house on my computer.
I asked my Dad when the bush had gotten so big.  
He said that it was always big, and that it was a tree, not a bush.
I asked him if he ever considered trimming it.  
He replied that they liked the privacy that it afforded them, and that they spent hours watching, and enjoying, the birds right outside their picture window.  They put feeders in the bush (tree?) so that they could watch the Cardinals and Blue Jays fight it out with the squirrels.

I mentioned to them that while I was on Google, I took a walk around the neighborhood.  From our house, I went up the street, click by click, until I got to Linden Elementary school.  I stopped to look at my friend Mark's house at the top of the street, and I took the alley (which now appears creepy and old with it's cobblestones).
Dad suggested I move home and that I could do it every day, if I wanted to. 
Sadly, I don't want to.

Nowadays, your memories can be spot checked.
You can relive your childhood by walking the same path.

A google walk might do you good. Clear some cobwebs.

Go back and look at your childhood home.
Stroll your street, and note the changes.

Or, better yet, come visit me.
(But, if you do it virtually, we can't go snorkeling and I can't cook you dinner).

I'm at the blue arrow.      Can't miss me.


Alesia said...

I think you made the right choice in staying in your, essentially, beach front home!

Cul-de-sac-ed said...

I totally think you should paint an updated version of your childhood home. They'd be hilarious hanging side by side. Embrace the absurd!