Auld (and New) Lang Syne

This is the house.

IMG_2001I lived in this house for six years and seven months. I moved there when I was 26 years old. It has been nearly that long since I was 26 years old.

Last week, a group of people that I hung out with back then got together for a reunion of sorts. Then I helped my cousin move. Then I flew home on a cushy first class ticket; pampering I needed after the grunt work of previous days. That’s not the story.

Here’s the story:

We named this house after its address. It was never “my house” or “the brown bungalow on the corner” (it used to be brown, if you’re confused by the picture of a white house that accompanies this post) or “the place where they throw the epic parties” or “Tara” or “Twelve Oaks” or any other damn thing.

This house was “Sixteenth Street.”

And everyone knew it.

We had a great group. That was my cousin’s doing. She was, we laughingly called her, our “cruise director.” We hung out, saw bands, drank, danced, partied, loved, lost, worked, traveled, solved the world’s problems, and lived our early adulthood as it should have been lived — with verve, with passion. Or as Thoreau might have said, we sucked the marrow out of it.

It wasn’t all fun and frivolity. During this time we watched helplessly as another of my cousins — and a roommate — died of cancer before her 28th birthday. It changed all of us. Irrevocably.

We were poor. So poor that I can’t even imagine it today, yet we managed because we had no other choice. Poverty often breeds necessity which is, as you know, the mother of invention. We were extraordinarily inventive.

Every year we cooked a massive Thanksgiving dinner on the Friday of Thanksgiving week and fed all of our friends who could not, would not or should not spend the holiday with family. We were each other’s family back then. Forty or 50 people ate at Sixteenth Street on those holidays, dubbed the “Feast of All Blackmons” by one of our gang.

The plumbing was laughable. And don’t even get me started on the “Hooterville Phone.” (Don’t ask.)

But we didn’t care. No one cared. The furniture was mostly cast-offs or trash pile “finds.” No one cared. What we did all care about was that no one was ever turned away. I learned about respect. I learned tolerance and acceptance. I learned how to love and be loved. I learned humility. I came out when I lived there. No one cared. There was some ribbing, to be sure, but no more than with anyone else with a new boyfriend. I learned how to be an adult on Sixteenth Street.

I also learned how to thaw pipes, prime oil pumps, perform minor plumbing repairs, and how it’s not a good party until someone (usually someone you are closely related to) blows something up in the side yard.

We got back together for a reunion concert of a band we used to see all the time. It has been about 15 years since we all hung out together. It was quite astonishing that it worked out in everyone’s schedules. And that everyone could travel. Most of us live, as my grandmother used to say, “hell and gone” from there these days.

The show was good, but not life-changing. The awkwardness that comes when people haven’t seen each other in so long lasted only a short time. We all fell back into our old roles, wearing them as a comfortable old sweater and reveling in the camaraderie, which was far, far more important than the music.

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My cousin Jennifer and I on the side porch at Sixteenth Street. This was Spring 1992. She passed away a few months later. She was fantastic fun.

We told stories about the old days and laughed until we cried and could not breathe and then we laughed some more. More than once someone begged for us to stop because they feared the laughter would unleash that scourge of middle age: the weakened bladder!

When we said our goodbyes, my cousin and I headed south to pack up her house. She’s going through a divorce, so it was more of a pain in the ass move than your normal pain in the ass move. Also, we did it ourselves. Did I mention that if you combine my age with my cousin’s you come up with this number: 100. We should have bought stock in Advil.

With a little help we packed the truck, said our goodbyes and headed out. We planned to stop halfway, but didn’t. We planned to stop three-quarters of the way, but didn’t. We just kept going. Sixteen hours straight in a rental truck. We may be old, I tweeted at a refueling stop, but we have stamina, dammit.

After a quick few hours of sleep we began unloading the truck. A shower and a power nap later and it was time for a family dinner, more stories, more laughter, and finally bed.

My cousin is set up now in her new house. She is close to family in a place she wants to be. I have promised to visit often. She’s excited about her new life and I’m excited about having an excuse to visit a warmer clime.

Life resets itself sometimes and you begin to look forward to the memories that you will make in the future, that you will look back on in some past that’s still in the distance.

I’ve thought a lot about how I showed up on the doorstep at Sixteenth Street nearly a quarter of a century ago and how eager I was for a life in the city, surrounded by important people and doing important work. I’ve had great experiences since then. I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I’ve made a lot more money than I ever dreamed about back then. I’ve worked hard and I’m still working hard, but I feel more content and more comfortable in my own skin than I ever have. I owe a lot of that to the years on Sixteenth Street that so intrinsically formed my adult values and personality.

We always did call the place Sixteenth Street and never called it what it really was.

It was — and remains — home.