When I was a little girl, I’d sit in the living room of our house on East 9th Street and listen to records on our stereo with its pull-out recorder player. I think the records, such as “Get A Job” by The Silhouettes, “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford and “Oh, Donna” by Ritchie Valens, must have been bought by my older siblings because they were just there and I’d play them and listen all by myself in that big room. The living room was the entire width of our two-story Dutch Colonel and had windows on the north and the south as well as French doors on either side of the fireplace that led out to the “east” screened-in porch. A grand piano and bench sat right in front of the three southern windows and was where I practiced piano for my weekly lessons with Miss Virginia Baird. My brother John would sometimes come into the living room to play when he was home from college. He was nine years older than I was and was an accomplished pianist. I loved sitting there when he played. I knew already that I would never reach his level of expertise. I just didn’t have the temperament to enjoy practicing the way he did.
The living room was off the beaten path from the rest of the house. It was separated from the main living area by the front foyer and was not a room for hanging out with friends. There was real fabric on the couch and chairs (unlike the beige Naugahyde my mother had all the family room furniture upholstered in) and a light-colored rug on the floor. This was the room for grown-up visits away from all the children or for special celebrations, such as when we opened gifts on Christmas morning. This was not the room where my brothers and their friends were allowed to throw their legs over the chair arms and slosh their drinks on the coffee table. No. That was only for the family room, not here. This room was like sacred space, reserved for quiet conversation or reading or, in my case, sitting on the floor in front of the stereo cabinet and quietly listening to music. The good news for me was that it was a bit of a hiding place since when the French doors were closed there was not much chance my pesky brothers would find me. I loved that room.
When I was a teenager, I had several parties that happened there. One was a beatnik party and all my friends came dressed up in their rendition of a cool “cat.” I remember girls wearing tights and long tee-shirts and the boys sporting painted-on black sideburns and pointed beards. Of course, there were a plethora of berets, worn at a jaunty tilt to indicate extreme coolness. My only memories of that party come from a series of pictures taken at that time, which was probably around 1967. Several of the girls were sitting on the laps of their boyfriends on our lovely upholstered couch while those who had come solo were sitting cross-legged on the soft carpet or standing near the black marble fireplace. Maybe it was winter because there might have been a fire in the fireplace and sneaking out into the frigid darkness of the east porch didn’t seem to hold much allure. The reason for that may have been more that we were just a little too young and innocent for any real romance. That would come in another year or so.
That living room was a refuge for me as well as a place where I first appreciated lovely decor. My mother had spent time and money to make that room beautiful and I understood on some deep level the value of creating a lovely living space. I could recreate that room today with very little effort. I know exactly where every piece of furniture was placed and which art pieces were on the mantle. I even know which paintings were on the walls. I didn’t know I was memorizing all those details when I was that little girl curled on the floor listening to music. I just knew I was happy.
Knowing now that I have spent much of my life in the world of art and antiques, I can look back on that little girl in that lovely room and see the first glimmerings of who I would become. Who knew that room would be such an influence? Maybe deep down, somehow, I knew.
From left to right: Brothers John, George, and Jim with Daddy in our living room
Little Brother Sam and I Dancing in that beloved room