Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Mother Slept Here (and here)

I don't know where exactly George Washington slept around here, but I do know that my mother, Bernice Bailey Calvert, gave him a run for the money. Her family moved at least eight times while she was growing up, and all of those addresses were within the confines of the District of Columbia starting with the old Sibley Hospital on North Capitol Street where she was born on November 18, 1917.

Wednesday was my mother's birthday, and I'd planned a tour of all her former residences, but first we needed sustenance. We stopped in at my favorite place for soul food, the Hitching Post near the Old Soldier's Home, for a fabulous fried chicken feast thanks to the proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Carter who have held the fort here since 1968.

After the birthday lunch, we headed just down the street to 1346 Quincy Street in Petworth- one of the many addresses I have for the Calvert family. The three of them lived in one of these four bedroom row houses, squeezing in my great grandfather Papa Bailey, his two teenaged daughters Mary and Johnnie Pearl, and a lodger to help make ends meet.

Built in 1918, these homes must have been fairly new when my family lived there in 1922. As far as I can tell this was the second place the family lived- the first being 2107 F Street-"near the gas works" according to my mother. This picture was probably taken in 1919.  George Washington University owns the building now.

At that time Roger was running "Calvert Commercial Service "opening doors" for newcomers to Washington who were hoping to see their representatives. (Roger himself came  to town in 1916 to work for Senator Sharp Williams of Mississippi.) The company motto?  "We do not pretend to know everyone, but we know someone who does." The office was at 1402 F Street and in a letter home, he mused to his mother that he could walk two blocks to the White House and see the President, but he was yet unable to get home to the family farm in Mississippi. Sure enough he also mentions a photograph of President Harding with his wife and child in August 1921 with "little Bernice holding the President's hand."

My mother's little brother Roger Jr. was born in late November of that year also at Sibley Hospital. They called him "Sonny."

The family was outgrowing F Street when they moved up to Petworth and then to Mt Pleasant where they would settle for a few years. Sonny was baptized at Mt Pleasant M.E. Church by Brother Ray. Their  next address, 1370 Irving Street is now "new luxury condos," but the Argonne Apartments- built in 1921 at 1629 Columbia Road- are still standing. The family lived in two different apartments there.

They also lived in the Chalfonte- built in 1918 on Argonne Place- right behind the Argonne. Mom remembers lying in her bed at night hearing the lions roar at the National Zoo down the hill.

In early 1929 they lived at 2606 Motzart Place. The house is still there although the big side yard where my mom climbed a tree has given over to a parking lot just like Joni Mitchell predicted.

She remembers the floor plan of this place- having a fireplace angled between the living room and the hall to the kitchen. She could walk out her back door to HD Cooke Elementary which was on the other side of the block.

Cutting across town we passed by the rather grand Broadmoor on Connecticut Ave. My grandparents were the first managers when it opened in 1929- just before the Big Crash. They lived in at least 4 different apartments there. (Is anybody keeping count?) Here's Bebe age 16 hanging out with a few friends in front of the lamp post.

And here she is a few years later. Didn't realize I took this picture in almost the same spot until I found the old one.

Back out on the Avenue, I thought we were finished when Mom started waving at yet another building on the corner of Connecticut and Ordway. I veered over to the curb and found out that she lived there  late in 1934 when she was about seventeen. She graduated from Western High School that year in 1935, and it was from this place that my mother left "home" for good.