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, Bebe 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 in November 1917.

For my mother's birthday, I 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, where we had a fabulous fried chicken feast. The proprietors, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, have held the fort here since 1968, and their place feels more like a home than a restaurant.

After the birthday lunch, we headed just down the street to 1346 Quincy Street in Petworth. The family lived in a four bedroom row house, squeezing in Bebe parents, her grandfather Papa Bailey, two teenaged aunts, Mary Bess and Johnnie Pearl, plus a lodger to help make ends meet. The grand total was seven people. One bathroom.

Built in 1918, these homes were 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 Bebe's father Roger was running "Calvert Commercial Service "opening doors" for newcomers in Washington. Roger came to town in 1916 to work for Senator Sharp Williams of Mississippi so he felt he knew the ropes.  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 couldn't get away to visit the family in Mississippi. He wasn't kidding. He goes on to mention a photograph of President Harding holding my mother's hand taken in August of 1921.  I sure wish I had that picture.

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 on 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 billed as "new luxury condos." They moved again when Roger got a job managing the Argonne Apartmentsbuilt in 1921 at 1629 Columbia Road. That building is still standing. The family lived in two different apartments there.

They also lived in the Chalfont which was built in 1918 on Argonne Place. Bebe remembers lying in her bed at night and hearing the lions roar at the National Zoo down the hill.

In early 1929 their address was 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.

Bebe remembers there was a fireplace angled between the living room and the hall to the kitchen, and that 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 at age 16 hanging out with a few friends in front of the lamp post.

And here she is a few years later. (I 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 Bebe 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 until she graduated from Western High School in 1935, and it was from this place that my mother left home for good and started another series of moves around DC. This time with my father.