SHARED STORIES: A Childhood Home

A few years ago Evelyn Watson was able to revisit a house in Bixby Knolls that she and her mother lived in for a short while during World War II.  Seeing it sixty-five years later, she was not disappointed, even though the house did not look as she remembered it. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Evelyn Watson

Sixty-five years had passed as I stepped back in time into the very large foyer of the house on Country Club Drive to re-visit the memories of when my mother and I lived there in 1945. It was an estate sale that allowed me to enter once again this beautiful house of my childhood memories. 

The foyer looked the same, opening into the living room as I remembered. The baby grand piano was no longer there upon entrance into the living room, but the fireplace at the far end of the room remained. The piano had given the room such a stately appearance. The room now appeared smaller than it did all those years ago.

The windows looking out beyond the backyard to the golf course were bare. With the piano gone, I viewed the windows with new interest as though I had not seen them before.

It was engraved on my mind that the staircase was wide and curved, but I saw that it wasn’t that way at all. I wished I could have climbed the closed-off stairs to tour the top floor that was a blank page on the pages of my memory.

Mother’s room was up those stairs, but I don’t recall ever being allowed to go up there, although I’m sure I must have. I was surprised to find a small bathroom off the foyer toward the front of the house, a forgotten room in my memory.

The once beautiful library now looked completely different. I saw two walls with very large floor-length picture windows looking out on the backyard. I remembered only one. I felt sure that there had been a fireplace in that room, but there was none. 

The impressive executive desk was gone, and where were the raised paneled walls that I loved? Had the walls actually been paneled? In my memories they were. Surely they would not have been removed. Now the room was naked, stripped of the beauty I had envisioned in my memory all these years.

I always considered the library my favorite room in the house, the one which gave me a love for libraries within a home. It will always remain written on the pages of my memory as an elegant, paneled library. I cherished that memory for so long that I cannot bear to let it go.
My room in the house probably had been the maid’s quarters just off the laundry area next to the kitchen. It was the room where I ate ice cream in bed when my tonsils were removed.

The little bathroom in the same area was where I cut off the neighbor girl’s long curls, and then lost her forever as a friend because her parents refused to let her play with me ever again. I don’t remember the kitchen’s arrangement, but certainly a kitchen in the forties would look nothing like a kitchen would today.

Fate brought Mother and me to that house during the war. Shortly before the war ended my mother took a job in the Country Club Drive house when the army refused to accept my parents’ marriage certificate as a legal document. The minister performing the ceremony had signed without using the title of Reverend or Pastor before his name.

The government accepted me as Dad’s dependent, but the refusal to recognize his marriage to my mother left her stranded and struggling for income to support us. During the red tape of straightening things out, Mother took a position as a live-in maid, care-giver, and cook for a man and his aging father. Pictures of me with Dad in his uniform at the back door reveal that Dad visited us when he was on leave.

I saved and kept this memory of the house all these years. On this visit I found much about the house different than I remembered, and I wonder how many of my other memories are different from reality. My memories of the Country Club house have always been delightful, and even though I found that some things had changed, I prefer to remember the house as I filed it in my memory.

After re-visiting the house, I learned that it was built in 1942, just three years before Mother and I went there to live. The house had 3,976 sq. ft. of living space with five bedrooms and five bathrooms. But I only remembered the one bedroom and bath where I was stationed in the house, in the maid’s quarters.

While I remember few things about living there on Country Club Drive, the house left its mark. Behind the house the backyard extended onto the very beautiful Virginia Country Club Golf Course.  With no fencing, it was like looking out across a beautiful countryside. Sadly, a chain link fence now separates the golf course from the yard.

The house was impressive and etched a lasting memory upon me. The splendor and greatness of the house opened my world to a home of beauty of the finest elements of life. I had not been inside a house so big or beautiful before, and it was like living in a different world for the short time that I was there. To me it was a mansion. It was the largest house I’ve always admired but never owned.